Less Than Jake – O2 Academy Birmingham, 9/11/08 (a review by Ripper)

Now, I’m a Less Than Jake virgin. Wait, make that a ska virgin. It’s true! Of all the shows I have ever been to, I have never experienced a major band ska show. I’ve been to local ska shows, but around my area, that just means that the band’s attempting to be [spunge] and nobody’s skanking.

So, when I turned up to the Academy, in the pouring down rain, I didn’t quite know what to expect.

Also, I should mention here that fightclubsandwich was also at the show, and in between every band, me and my boyfriend searched in vain for her, believing that she still had pink hair. She didn’t tell us she’d dyed it back to black. So, we gave up in the end, until she came dancing over during LTJ’s set. We TBO girls really need to co-ordinate ourselves better.

For one of the first times in my life, I didn’t miss the support bands. First up were Imperial Leisure, a British band with a unique mix of ska and hip-hop. There were literally a sea of people skanking, and it was good to see a support band with so much… support! They were a lot of fun, but they’re potentially controversial in the way that ska fans will either love them or hate them. It’s definitely not traditional ska that Imperial Leisure are playing, but it works.

Beat Union were up next, and to begin with, I wasn’t enamoured. The type of bands they’ve supported in past put me off, the main one of these being Good Charlotte. I actually like GC, but they have a habit of playing with notoriously bad support bands (I think the main exception to that is Millencolin, who I actually preferred to GC when I saw them a few years ago). However, after a couple of songs, I was pleasantly surprised. Pop-punk with more emphasis on the punk, they played loud and energetically. Obviously influenced by the Police, they incorporated a more laidback style into some of their songs which worked well. They were my boyfriend’s favourite band of the night, and what pleased him even more was that they were local lads. Nevertheless, they played well and got the crowd going.

The third band on the bill was Pepper, a ska band hailing from Florida. Pepper are very much influenced by Sublime, and you can tell. Not that that’s a bad thing, though. Their laidback ska grooves were great, and it amused me greatly how every member of the band was wearing shorts in Birmingham, of all places. Their onset jokes were funny though crude. I found a lot of it funny, but when they started joking about weed, I wasn’t impressed. It doesn’t take much to stereotype ska fans, unfortunately, and they did it with ease. However, the songs were good and the brief cover of Bro Hymn by Pennywise went down well.

Finally, the band in question. Less Than Jake. fightclubsandwich and I disagreed on a few aspects of this show, but LTJ was one where we couldn’t help but to agree. They were awesome. It’s actually impossible to go to a Less Than Jake gig and come out with a frown on your face. I haven’t heard a lot of the new album, but the songs from GNV FLA came across as some of the strongest, as well as tons of classics from Hello Rockview, Borders And Boundaries, Anthem and even a couple of songs from even earlier were played. I was very pleased by the amount of Anthem material, because that was the album of 2003 for me, and songs where I actually knew the words! I’m abysmal when it comes to song lyrics. It was an extremely entertaining set. Bad jokes from the brass section! Heavy metal scream contests! Making fun of security guards! It felt good to laugh at a show again. LTJ’s sound was also incredible, making up for the bad levels in previous sets. Everyone was dancing, everyone was singing, everyone was having a good time. And that’s what a show should be like.

The truth is, whether you’re a Less Than Jake fan or not, it’s hard to deny that cheeky grin creeping up on your face when they’re playing. This band is essential for everyone, especially in a scene now dominated by depressing haircuts and suicidal lyrics. And hey, who doesn’t like trombones?

Less Than Jake – O2 Academy Birmingham, 9/11/08 (a review by fightclubsandwich)

I went through a lot of pain for this Less Than Jake concert. I had menstrual queasiness pretty badly for most of the day of the show, and consequently only ate a piece of toast and a packet of crisps instead of, um, actual meals. The weather that evening was positively nightmarish; I genuinely thought that I might get frostbite in my feet since I couldn’t feel them at all, my shoes were just filled with numbness and a weird, pins-and-needles sort of feeling. Then, once I took the train into the city, I had to walk to the venue through puddles that were deep enough to qualify – technically – as lakes, wearing two vests, a sweater, two jackets, a hat, a scarf, and my hood up too.

That I went through this much to see the concert should maybe give you a hint at the sort of partiality that you can expect of my “review”.

I am a pretty big Less Than Jake fan, and this night was the third time that I had seen them. The first time I ever saw them, I took a train from Cardiff to Bristol, just for the show. I am afraid that this review would fail so spectacularly at any attempt at objectivity that I may as well just discard any attempt at such pretences of neutrality and just admit that there will be fangirlish gushing.

The support bands, I can, however, review fairly. The first two bands were Imperial Leisure and Beat Union, in that order, and both made really great support acts. Imperial Leisure in particular, got the crowd skanking so enthusiastically that I can’t say I’ve ever seen such a reaction from the first band at any show. I suspect that a good portion of the crowd did come for this band, rather than the headliners. I can certainly see why they would. Imperial Leisure were the sort of band that you see once, and then think “yeah, if I heard that they were playing another show somewhere near me, I would definitely go, it’d clearly be a fun time”.

Beat Union were also pretty good, but let down by poor sound. I couldn’t make out a word that the lead singer said, and very few words that he sang. On the other hand, they were the best dressed band of the night, no doubt about it. Their sound seemed to be more influenced by second wave ska than Imperial Leisure, and, I guess, The Police, since they played a lot of chunks of popular songs by The Police. They totally laid to rest all the misgivings we had after finding out that they had played previously as a support act to Good Charlotte, though unlike the band that came before them, I would suspect that they sound better on recordings than as a live act.

Next came Pepper. Now, I had heard of think this band before the night of the tenth, so their popularity may have earned them a longer slot than the others, or perhaps I just found their set so utterly miserable that it just seemed to stretch on and on forever, but this was just an illusion. Musically, these guys were pretty easy to sum up. Do you like Sublime? If you said yes, then you’ll like this band, most likely. I, personally, went through such a massive ska phase between the ages of sixteen to eighteen, consuming so very much of the genre, that frankly, I’m almost completely desensitised to ska. More accurately, I’ve become desensitised to mediocre and unoriginal ska, so frankly, Pepper’s set bored me half to death. I danced a little, but was mostly just because it was more fun to dance than to not dance. I kept my faith in Less Than Jake, and that’s what got me through.

It wasn’t just the music that irritated me about Pepper’s set, but whether or not to judge them on other factors may be seen as unfair practice by some. I mean, it was mentioned that the band was from Hawaii, but to appear shirtless onstage in Birmingham in November? It just felt a bit contrived and a bit like posturing, though the room was admittedly, very warm from all the moving bodies. Also, the band constantly referred to “pussy” and even had some sort of gross hand gesture that supposedly signified a vagina. This was lame for so many reasons, not only it crude, (hey guys, guess what? Vaginas are attached to people! People standing in your audience right now, who don’t appreciate being objectified!) and slutty, (can you imagine a female artist coming onstage and saying “I love cock”? The uproar would be unimaginable) but also, I was just crabby about being reminded that I was on my period every five minutes, and that just took away from my enjoyment of the whole time.

And eventually, we had Less Than Jake. Just typing their name feels like the keyboard is massaging my fingers, after being forced to relive Pepper’s set in memory. Less Than Jake’s first song was All My Best Friends Are Metalheads, during which you could not hear Roger’s voice at all because everyone was singing along so. Damn. Loudly. It was amazing. Incidentally, they came on during the spoken introduction to the song that comes before the track on Hello Rockview (and later on played the “Harry Reynolds” bit before playing the song Automatic.) The next song was Does The Lion Still Roar? which was very exciting because it’s a song I’d never heard them play before. The new album’s superiority to In With the Out Crowd has been mentioned many times, and the new songs sounded really terrific live, even Summon Monsters, which is one of my least favourite off GNV FLA. It is a pretty excellent song to dance to, I think that’s its main strength and it just doesn’t come across on the CD. Incidentally, they did not play any songs at all off In With The Out Crowd.

Some of the other songs they played included The Mixology Of Tom Collins, The Ghosts Of You And Me and The Science Of Selling Yourself Short, – the latter being one of my favourite songs ever written, and the song that got me into Less Than Jake in the first place, back when I was thirteen, so that’s always a high point of any Less Than Jake show I attend. The band is also very funny and self-aware when they’re onstage; with the horns section telling purposely awful jokes, or dancing and mugging at the audience when they’re not required for certain songs; and Chris admitting, after having bad-mouthed the crowd at Nottingham, where they’d played the previous night, “I am going to talk so much shit about you guys tomorrow”. The best stage banter of the night was probably towards the end, when he announced the next song, which was almost entirely a description of the song Pete Jackson Is Getting Married (“this song is about my uncle’s wedding, and drinking until you actually like your family”) and then they played Plastic Cup Politics. I may have actually laughed aloud, but I can’t remember, and I doubt I’d have heard myself anyway over the sound of the customary screams of joy that came at the start of every song.

I caught up with Ripper and Thom about three quarters of the way through the show, near the barrier at the front. I stuck with them for such songs as Gainsville Rock City, Dopeman and the aforementioned Plastic Cup Politics. I demanded from Ripper a promise that she would not judge me by my enthusiastic, but generally horrible dancing, – which generally resembles an epileptic fit – and she agreed to exchange a small chunk of my student loan for a t-shirt, due to my irrational but crippling phobia of merch stands. While she did so, I asked Thom for his opinion of the evening, who tactfully replied that he didn’t like ska.

I have for a while now held the belief that such thing as a bad Less Than Jake show is impossible, and tonight did nothing to disprove me of such beliefs. This was the first time I’d ever seen any band for the third time, and so I got to see them in a new way, through the lens of familiarity. I may not be able to assess them fairly and objectively, but I think even without the passion for the band that I have, it was a fun evening. The band practically bleeds fun, and they bring an energy and humour to the stage that is just a wonderful example of the way that a band should behave, the things they should have learned after over fifteen years of playing shows. Some day Less Than Jake will slow down, I’m sure, they will no longer be interesting or fun, or maybe they’ll just stop caring. On that day, you and I will have a big loud fight about whether they are an awful band, and I will end up crying, and admitting that I’m just deluded, but for now, even with an awareness of all my partiality, – my huge bias towards a band that will likely never stop being one of my favourites – I still believe that Less Than Jake are one of the best live bands around.

No matter what bozos they may be on tour with.