Live Review: Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, The Bennies

5 October 2015 | 6:28 pm | David Adams

"It becomes apparent that victory was some time ago."

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Looking past the blaring horns, the pastiche of Hawaiian shirts and two-tone accoutrement, the foundational element of ska-punk is that chirpy and incessant guitar upstroke: always plucking up and away, never down and never out. When the genre burst into public consciousness in the mid-'90s, it was almost alternative music's ready-made antidote to the moody hangover of grunge. Fun, fiery and relentlessly bombastic, ska-punk devotees latched onto that unique one-two rhythm and haven't let go.  

Still, genre stalwarts Reel Big Fish power through alternate realities in which the band cheekily reimagine SR as death metal, disco and hardcore punk. These excursions, while tokenistic, still hint at a desire to explore sounds outside the confines of ska-punk — despite his kitschy stage persona, frontman Aaron Barrett proves himself to be a more than competent guitarist, slinging his axe behind his head, Jimi-style. The band spit out energetic vitriol on newer cut I Know You Too Well To Like You Anymore, before veering through a sneaky cover of The Offspring's Self Esteem. Barrett and saxophonist Matt Appleton's falsetto are given a workout on crowd-favourite closer Take On Me.

If Reel Big Fish are ska-punk, Less Than Jake are ska-punk; despite having one fewer member in the horn section, the Florida act sound surprisingly rich and full. History Of A Boring Town ticks off the me-vs-the-world requirement for the evening, likewise Overrated (Everything Is) powers out a prototypical juvenile disaffection. Guitarist Chris DeMakes sarcastically quips they are older, "fatter, and less funny" than they were last time they toured Australia, and despite the band conducting the set like the great victory in some revenge-of-the-band-geeks fever dream, it becomes apparent that victory was some time ago.

Notably, both headliners' effusive praise for megging-clad Aussie openers The Bennies suggests a future for relentlessly positive pop-punk.The kooky synth lines of Heavy Disco and Mushroom Tea show a lineage with the American bands on the line-up, but that homegrown dirt in their "psychedelic reggae ska doom metal punk rock from hell" sound may be enough to grow the genre up and out from the increasingly niche, checkerboard world of ska-punk.

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