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"...Reel Big Fish is all about having a nice, sweaty, maybe-slightly-inebriated, good time, and to that, I think I'll have myself a beer."

Concert Review: Skawesome

It’s 8:00 p.m.. My legs are killing me, my brain is fried, my frustration is boiling over after a long day at the convention center. All I want something to help let off some steam and forget about what happened earlier.

Looks like I’ve come to the right place.

For the last stop on their tour, ska-punk heavyweights Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake made their way to the Egyptian Room at Old National Centre Saturday, June 27. To complete the lineup, Ballyhoo! is here to open.

I arrive to the venue several minutes late, running on fumes and ready to turn my frustration from earlier in the day into happiness. As I walk into a packed Egyptian Room, the lights around out and eyes are fixated towards the stage, where to my surprise, Ballyhoo! has already gotten the party started.

Unlike our headliners, this is not a ska band. There are no horns of any type. Just pure, unadulterated punk rock fun. They’re upbeat, full of energy, and really know how to get the crowd involved, urging hands in the air and sing-alongs, even if you’re like me and you don’t know any of their songs. I didn’t get to catch much of their set, so we’ll sum it up like this: the best openers are ones that can set the tone, get everyone nice and warmed up, and more importantly, leave people wanting more. Ballyhoo! did just that.

The first act is over, and life goes on around the Egyptian Room. Some of the crowd files outside to visit the merch tables or for a bathroom break, while others hit stake out better spots to view the next band. As for this crowd, it’s noticeably much older than most punk shows I typically go to. Many are closer to my age for a change, although there are a few kids – especially some whose parents are here with them – scattered across the floor. It’s a very diverse group here.

All seems relatively calm until a large banner emblazoned with the words “Less Than Jake” is lifted, and it doesn’t help that we can hear a trombone during sound check. We’re getting closer. I guess that means I should start standing up from this nice spot I’ve found. Maybe next time we make sure I’m not getting off from an all-day volunteer shift running on maybe 4 hours of sleep? Eh, we’ll see.

Almost without warning, the lights go out, and the 20th Century Fox fanfare blares through the speakers, and we’re greeted by our favorite Gainesville, FL natives. I’ve waited a long time to finally see these guys perform live. So let’s get this started.

For the next hour, Less Than Jake pulled out all the stops for their first Indianapolis show in almost 12 years (Warped Tour is in Noblesville, mind you). They played favorites old and new, shot confetti, toilet paper and balloons into the crowd, told jokes all throughout, and made it seem like they were on a mission to make sure everyone had a great time. All the while, this eager crowd obeyed their constant calls for jumping, circle pits, singing along, and skanking. They even get everyone to “do the Pac-Man” at one point. As the band would put it numerous times, this was the last show of the tour, and thus they needed something memorable to think about before they sit at home depressed, and it’s like everyone here is more than happy to oblige.

Ska is generally lighthearted, but they do take a few moments to thank everyone for coming out before announcing that as a whole, Less Than Jake has been around longer than some of the people in the audience. They don’t shy away from the self-depreciating humor, but that’s part of the charm.

Judging by how this performance is going, it’s feeling like maybe Less Than Jake should be the headliner, and as they wrap up their sets and chants for an encore begin, it’s feeling more and more like that. Of course, give the people what they want, and they do so with three more songs and one last rendition of their Pac-Man Cereal theme song before finally bidding the Indianapolis crowd farewell. That was a lot of fun, and it definitely made me forget about my frustrations. Let’s hope we’re not waiting 12 more years for them to come back.

Judging by how quickly the floor opened up as soon as the lights came back up, you can tell a lot of people were here just for Less Than Jake. No worries. I now have a better spot not too far from the stage. While we have this break, I’m wondering if this will prove to be too much of a good thing going from one legendary ska band to the next. I guess we’ll find out.

Meanwhile, the floor is looking like something I’d typically see around Klipsch Music Center (née Deer Creek) in the summer, with confetti, streamers, and discarded beer cans scattered across. It looks like a party just happened, and we’re not out of the woods just yet, as evidenced by Reel Big Fish’s mic stands having their own drink holders. This could get interesting.

After a lengthy wait, the lights go out and the familiar sound of “The Final Countdown” pours through the speakers before the guys in the Reel Big Fish greet everyone with the always-friendly number “Everyone Else Is An Asshole.”

Actually, there seems to be a theme here. There are plenty of middle fingers in the air, and also the song “Your Guts (I Hate ‘Em).” Despite that, it’s a fairly cheerful – albeit slightly toned down – performance. There’s plenty of jumping around, moshing and circle pits, and skanking going on down here on the floor as the band runs through a catalog of new and old songs. Compared to what we just witness, I can’t help but think this is like a coming down period in the beginning. The band jokes about this in between songs, calling Less Than Jake the greatest ska-punk band in the world, and they have to follow them. Regardless, Reel Big Fish is all about having a nice, sweaty, maybe-slightly-inebriated, good time, and to that, I think I’ll have myself a beer.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never actually seen a full set of theirs, but there are a lot of covers, and not just “Brown-Eyed Girl.” There’s a moment where the interlude is “Call Me Maybe” (and they make all the men in the room sing, to no success), 311’s “Down,” “Semi-Charmed Life” (which everyone sang), and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The latter 3 was to set up their song from the 90s that they were known for: the crowd-pleasing “Sell Out.”

Sadly, my moment of ska bliss can’t last forever. As they wrap up “Sell Out,” they bid everyone farewell before we’re left standing in the dark chanting for more. Actually, some people are chanting for Less Than Jake again, but regardless, Reel Big Fish comes back to deliver an encore that consists of the same song about 5 times with different endings and calling for different things each time (circle pits, headbanging, square dancing, etc.) and two songs from the 90s featured in the film BASEketball (“Beer” and their A-ha cover “Take On Me.” From there, we’ll all sent on our way back to the outside world. Though I will note that hearing everyone sing along to “Sweet Caroline” was something to behold. Now, it’s time to get home and get a few hours of sleep before I have to be back at the convention center again tomorrow, all while trying to figure out how I’m going to write this.

Final verdict?

Almost a week later, this still resonates, even after one of the most hectic weekends I’ve had in a while. I went in very frustrated and running on fumes, and left a new man. I was cheerful, covered in sweat, and feeling like I could go another round. It may be a while until I get another ska-tastic lineup like this, so I need to save it as much as I can.

In closing, a “skawesome” night of music was just the thing I needed.

The Good:

Ballyhoo! was a great way to open, Less Than Jake threw everything but the kitchen sink at the crowd, and Reel Big Fish put together a solid, fun set. I could get behind more punk shows like this.

The Bad:

For a moment, Reel Big Fish sort of felt like a coming down period having followed Less Than Jake, but of course, this feeling didn’t last long. Just a brief adjustment period.