On 6 Nov I went to my 2013 concert. Because of time and money concerns, Danielle and I typically go to a maximum of two concerts a year, and usually just one concert. I was completely unable to resist seeing Five Iron Frenzy in their first tour since breaking up nearly a decade ago. I didn’t really care for Reel Big Fish and I hoped that Five Iron Frenzy would go first as Co-headliner so I could leave early. In fact, although being a fan of ska, the only Reel Big Fish song I’d ever heard was “Everbody’s Doin’ the Fish” because it was the Florida Marlins’ theme song for a season or two. A large part of that comes from the fact that when I got into ska, in the 1990s, I was only into Christian music to the exclusion of secular music – as was encouraged by my middle school church. (My high school church actually shied away from Christian music, which I thought was weird, considering how good it had gotten by the early 2000s) So I listed to Five Iron Frenzy, The OC Supertones, and The Skadaddles. This was going to be my first Five Iron Frenzy concert in nearly 15 years when I saw them at a festival in Florida (and actually filmed a pretty decent video bootleg)
It was an interesting Crowd at The Fillmore on Wednesday. Five Iron Frenzy and Reel Big Fish had their start in the 90s so many of the attendees were, like me, in their 30s (give or take 5 years). However, I overheard a rather young-looking girl next to me (I don’t think she had a 21 and up bracelet on) talking about how she heard about Five Iron Frenzy for the first time a couple years ago when someone at her church played a FIF song. She was crestfallen to find out the band had broken up. There were even younger-looking kids including one that looked to be around 11 or 12 that I’ll talk about later. I struck up a conversation with a woman who was near me who worked for the Patent Office. I’ve recently become “the man” as I’ve moved into management. It’s a strange crowd at the ska show given that both Five Iron Frenzy and Reel Big Fish dug deep into their catalog and some of those songs were strange coming from our mouths. I’d been working on a blog post about punk rock (I could have sworn that I published it….it’s really bugging me that I can’t find it) and how strange the lyrics are coming from the mouths of 30 year olds instead of teens.
The opening act was Beebs and Her Money Makers (Stylized on their merch as Beeb$ and Her Money Maker$). I have not gone to anywhere near as many concerts as my brother, Dan of Nothing to the Table, but I’ve gone to enough of them to know that the opening act is often a huge gamble. I’ve seen crazy mismatches like rappers opening for hard rock music acts (I know there’s SOME crossover, but … yeah) and I’ve seen bands that are a match, musically, but just are NO WHERE near the level of the main acts. So I was shocked in a good way to see how enjoyable BAHMM was. I bought their brand new EP (not yet on iTunes, I was told) all of which was part of the set list that night. Here’s my favorite song so you can judge how they sound to your ears:
To my ears they sound like 90s ska, very much like the ska bands I love – No Doubt, Save Ferris, and the first few Five Iron Frenzy albums. But they weren’t only a great sounding band, they were a great PERFORMING band. Beebs had the tough job of warming up the still-entering crowd and she was able to lull us out of our opening band apathy. She asked us to dance a sort of ska shuffle and nearly everyone complied, even if some of them did it half-assed. She had an infectiously positive attitude embodied by her hips shaking to the beat. It was so iconic that Jeff the Girl (from Five Iron Frenzy) did the hip shake as Reese Roper rattled off the bands that had preceeded them). They even got me to love their ska cover of Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, which Beebs dedicated to John Stamos of Family Matters. The two highlights for me were a song they did which I THINK was a cover. It had like 5 false endings and it was a bit harder rock than the rest of the ska set. Even though I didn’t know Reel Big Fish (as I mentioned above), one of the songs from the EP (produced by the Reel Big Fish lead singer) had him providing duet vocals with Beebs and the song was performed with a little extra vigor. Additionally, proving the entire purpose of going to a concert (vs listening to a live album), the crowd (half of which was there for RBF) went nuts over the singer’s appearance and that vibe energized all of us.
One of the best things about opening acts is that they’re able to socialize with the fans after their set. I’m sure it’s partially because you HAVE to be nicer when you’re coming up. But it’s probably also because the openers go on last and play for 60-90 minutes and need a break after their set. I’m not sure, but anyway, the band was at their merch table signing merch and giving hugs. I struck up a chat with the drummer, the horn player, and Beebs and found out they were from Orlando, Florida. It was neat to have that connection with them and we chatted a little about it. I ended up buying their EP and I’ll keep an eye out for them. I love the fun-loving style they have and would definitely see them as headliners – especially if they were touring with other 90s-sounding ska bands.
Beautiful Bodies was up next and they were the one band that didn’t fit in with the ska lineup. That’s OK because they had lots of moxie. The Beautiful Bodies lead singer reminded me of Buffy in her dancing and seems like it’d maybe have been a band at the Bronze (although one of the harder rocking bands, not the slow ballad bands). At the concert, the sound had a harsh, raw feel to it. I bought the EP because I’d been to enough concerts to know that it would be a smoother sound that I would enjoy more. It was indeed the case! Not that there’s anything wrong with the raw concert sound – I think it added immensely to the feel and provided a great reason to see them live. When we were listening to EP on the way to New York, Danielle said she thought we were listening to a new Paramore album. I thought there was something to the lyrics that reminded me of Avril Lavigne. I really hesitate to make the comparison because Avril always seemed like a poseur to me and Beautiful Bodies seems like the real thing, but, thematically, it flows along with a similar youth rebellion – although my memory tells me that Avril was like teen rebellion while Beautiful Bodies seems to be more of a 20s rebellion. Like, “I’m an adult, but I still call BS on the world and its social construct.” To my ears they have a great sound, I particularly like the singer’s voice. So it’ll be interesting to see how they grow musically and lyrically as they, and their base, ages.
Performance-wise, they nearly matched Beebs and Her Money Makers, but in their own way. Beebs was loud in a ska sort of way – with strangely dressed people taking the stage to skank with the band members. Beautiful Bodies, was more subdued in that sense, but was incredibly intense in their dancing and movements. Additionally, the lead singer went off the stage to interact with the crowd for about 3 songs out of the 5 song set. And boy did she interact. She climbed up on the fence-like thing that separates the crowd for the stage at The Fillmore and sang directly to various audience member.
Five Iron Frenzy started their set with Blue Comb ’78. It was an awesome vibe to hear everyone singing along right away. FIF played at least one song from each album, including many from the first two. I wonder how they chose to focus so heavily on the earlier catalog. Did they know those were fan favorites? And based on what research? Hearing people sing along? Last.fm scrobbles? Spotify royalties? Based on what I know about Five Iron Frenzy, it may have just been put together slap-dash.
Although both of the openers tried to get people to dance, it wasn’t until Five Iron Frenzy that the majority of the crowd began to skank, circle dance, and all other manner of body gyration. It was at this point that, to keep from crushing the woman in front of me, I had to grab the fence on either side and brace myself whenever things got wild. Given how rough things eventually got during Reel Big Fish, this was no easy feat. It was a nice gesture that, when it was all said and done, that woman thanked me for keeping her from getting dangerously crushed.
Overall, the set was a great nostalgia trip and well worth the money. However, FIF has more technical problems than any other band I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a concert where they didn’t have some sort of technical issue. The video bootleg I shot 15 years ago captured a long session where they couldn’t play because of technical issues. Here, for 2-3 songs in a row they had to stop for a few minutes after each song to deal with some issue. I think at least two times it was the guest guitar player who was having issues with his guitar. For banter during one of these malfunctions they mentioned our local team, the Washington Native Americans. (FIF has always been active in Native American rights issues)
It was interesting to see at the concert that FIF is now more like rock with horns while BAHMM is more like 90s ska.
After that, I had planned to leave, but I decided, “What the heck? I’ve already paid – I could always leave if Reel Big Fish sucks.” I was actually pleased with the music. Like Beebs, it hearkened back to a ska sound I really liked when I was in High School. Sure, some of the songs showed their age and immaturity, but a lot of them were good or at least had a skankable beat. They also had a few comedy bits, including one in which they played the same song over and over, but with a different sound to it – somewhat reminiscent of Five Iron Frenzy’s Pants Rock Opera. They also had a fun leadup to their song about alcohol by covering nearly every other song ever written about alcohol – boy there are a lot of those! The moshing, pushing, and crowd surfing kicked into high gear during the RBF set. It was hard not to be crushed from either side or from above.
If there’s one thing that’d always been a bummer at concerts, it’s that you had to take a bunch of cash because no one took credit cards. The iPhone has changed this completely. Thanks to those credit card attachments that I first experienced at last year’s Baltimore Comic-Con, I was able to get a CD from each band (except RBF). (Note:Beebs album has wrong song titles on tracks 3 and 4 – swapped)