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Ain’t No Party Like a Ska Punk Party…

Saturday night, a ska punk circus came to the Newport in the form of the Reel Big Fish and Streetlight Manifesto tour.  Three hours of ska punk might seem like a lot, but to the enthralled crowd that packed the hall, it was not enough.Kicking off the party was the lone band that wasn’t ska or punk; Rodeo Ruby Love.  

Hailing from Indiana, this indie-pop band writes catchy songs with even catchier sing-a-long choruses.  On stage they made their songs even bigger. With front man Zachary Melton, and singer Annie Chase harmonizing so well live, songs like “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” and crowd favorite “The Melody” filled the Newport in the way some indie-pop bands can’t.  By the time the chugging guitar started in on “Secrets,” most of the ska-punk fans were behind the band.  If they weren’t then, they were by the time the reggae tinged guitar outro to “The Melody” kicked in, and everyone started bouncing along.Still the crowd was itching for its ska punk.  

So much so it started a call and response while, UK band, New Riot did their mic checks.  By the time New Riot started their set with “Feel the Burn,” everyone was ready to dance.  While their sound is straight forward party ska punk, it still contains that rude boy ethos that UK ska bands seem to be born with. New Riot kept the party vibe bouncing throughout their whole set.  “How Long” had their guitarist, Drew, taking a ride across the crowd on his boogie board.  For their song “Punk Radio,” lead singer, Tommy orchestrated the night’s first circle pit.  

In fact, the band had such control over the crowd they got everyone to crouch down, emphatically boo those that wouldn’t, and then jump on command. New Riot closed out their set by bringing out Reel Big Fish’s saxophonist, Matt Appleton, to help out with their single, “Riot.Sleep.Repeat.”

For the uninitiated, they might have thought the crowd had reached its apex as New Riot left the stage.  They would realize the error of their judgement as the house lights darkened, the Superman theme blared, and the crowd chanted in unison: “Reel Big Fish.”  The night was just getting started as, lead singer, Aaron Barrett came out looking like Elvis, if he stopped eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and retired in Tampa. (And also didn’t die)  

Starting off with “Everything Sucks” from 1996’s Turn the Radio Off, Reel Big Fish then blasted through such fan favorites as “Trendy,” “In the Pit,” and “She Has a Girlfriend Now.”  Actually, every song the band played seemed to be a fan favorite as the Newport sang every word to every song.  They sang while forming the biggest circle pit of the night.  They sang while throwing underwear (men’s and women’s) on stage.  They sang in a conga line. They sang out in the smoking area.  They sang in the restroom.  At least they did in the men’s restroom.  I can’t vouch for the ladies.  

Feeding off the audience’s adoration Reel Big Fish gave them everything the audience could want including two bass solos.  Two!  They wrapped up their set with the 1-2-3 punch of their first single “Sell Out,” “Beer,” and their cover of a-ha’s “Take on Me” which nearly resulted in the crowd blowing the roof off the Newport.  The band then left the stage as they entered with the crowd chanting, “Reel Big Fish.”

I know a lot of music snobs turn up their nose at ska or ska punk, even though you would probably find an album or two in their album collection, if you dug deep enough.  I imagine the defenders of this genre often point to the co-headliners and closing act; Streetlight Manifesto.  This seven piece band from New Jersey is at its core ska punk, but then they’ve layered in different styles often in the same song to create an intriguing sound.  Take set opener, “Watch it Crash” that opened with a metal like call and response between guitar and horns, broke into a little ska horn break, and then became a klezmer influenced  verse and shout along chorus.  Then there was the Latin horn salvo that introduced “We Will Fall Together,” or the sneaky 60’s era R&B bass line that shows up in “Down, Down, Down to Mephisto’s Cafe.”  As a listener not completely familiar with their song catalogue, the night became a listening adventure to see where they would go with each song.  

The crowd, though, knew where every jazz break, time change, and lyric belonged.  Fom “Failing, Failing, Failing” to “The Big Sleep” to personal favorite “The Big Sleep,” (I’m a sucker for Na Na Nas.) the crowd kept up with, lead singer, Tomas Kalnoky’s rapid delivery.  Even their covers of Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard,” Bad Religion’s “Skyscraper,” and The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” emphasized the band’s diversity in sound.  From the start of the set to the encore, Streetlight Manifesto delivered a rollercoaster of a set that left the audience screaming for one more song.

Overall, I think the night really belonged to the crowd as they skanked, moshed, pogoed and sang their throats raw  to UK, Southern Cali, and East Coast ska-punk.  For over three hours they never stopped showing their love for the bands that played tonight. It was a great night for ska punk.

Bradford Iten; Columbus Wired

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