A concertgoer’s boot grazed the head of a media member while hurtling from the top of the photo-pit barrier onto the stage. The acrobatic man winded through band members before diving head first back into the crowd, where he disappeared and escaped capture from security.
It was a rock ‘n’ roll reconnaissance mission at the start of the Reel Big Fish concert on Valentine’s Day at the Cargo Concert Hall in Reno.
Only one other fan made it to the stage. Numerous crowd surfers who came close were snatched by security and tossed into the pit, where they would dizzily rise to their feet and we’re quickly led back out to the crowd. The surfers weren’t arrested or even kicked out. It was a riotous yet congenial affair, hosted by an amiable Southern California ska-punk band on one of its final shows of a seven-week tour.
The photographer? He got the hell out of the pit in a hurry and shot the rest of the show from the side of the stage.
The fans had been worked into a visceral frenzy by the punk rock band Anti-Flag, which railed on the actions of President Trump. The year 2017 is quickly becoming a divisive and dark place. Reel Big Fish took us back to a happier time, the 1990s, when ska music was celebrated in brick-and-mortar retail sites known as record stores. Reel Big Fish played live and in its entirety the 1997 record “Turn The Radio Off.” (Yes, there was radio back then, too.)
Along with Fishbone and No Doubt in the 1990s, was Orange County’s reply to Britain’s Two Tone Revolution led by Madness and The Specials.
Led by Johnny “Christmas” Christianson, the players marched onstage to the sounds of “Ole’, Ole’, Ole’ and the irreverence began.
It was a hot and sweaty ska spectacular where fans sang along, “I don’t fucking care anymore,” as they skipped, spun, slammed, surfed and bounced.
“I know everything sucks,” the ringleader Aaron Barrett said. “But this is the last time you’ll hear me complain.”
The world’s happiest horn section – Johnny Christmas, trumpet; Billy Kottage, trombone and vodka tonic; and Matt “Saxel Rose” Appleton, saxophone – blew the crowd away.
Saxel Rose, who is “good at doing the lady parts,” sang soprano on “She has a Girlfriend Now,” before the band went into “Sell Out,” the opening track, and most-popular hit, from “Turn The Radio Off.” Afterward, Barrett said, “Just to let you know there are more songs on the album,” segueing into the song “Trendy.”
Barrett was self-deprecating as he deadpanned while wearing a neon green Hawaiian shirt, stripped sunglasses and playing a checkerboard electric guitar. The songs, of course, were actually well-known to the audience, but they would often morph into poppy hits from the 1990s and move into styles such as rockabilly or cookie monster rock.
“That was a little bit of something for everybody,” Barrett said. “And now, oh goody, the unabridged Side B.”
When the band exited the stage, the crowd chanted “One More Song” and then “Reel Big Fish.” After the noise died down, Reel Big Fish re-emerged. Even the band’s encores have irony.
The encore was a medley of four tunes, starting with the aforementioned album’s hidden track, “Cool Ending,” followed by an anthemic rendition of “Everyone is an Asshole,” “Where Have You Been” and “Take On Me,” the song by the Norwegian synth-pop band A-ha that Reel Big Fish covered for a movie that starred the creators of “South Park.”
When it was all over, Barrett was circumspect: “Out of all the ska-punk albums that were made in the 1990s, ‘Turn The Radio Off’ was one of them.”