Reel Big Fish @ The Altar Bar, Pittsburgh, PA

Live Reviews | Jan 26th, 2013

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Date: January 23, 2013
Opening Bands: Dan Potthast, The Pilfers

It’s been almost six years since Reel Big Fish came to Pittsburgh and the last time that the Pilfers were in the ‘burgh they tore up Club Laga last century. I miss that place, but the Altar Bar has been a good substitute for some pretty great shows in Pittsburgh over the past few years. Along for the ride with those two bands was Dan Potthast, lead singer of MU330, with his solo acoustic act. I was thrilled and excited to be catching an all ska show for the first time in a long time as well.

The show was an early 6:30 start and after a brief delay, Dan P. was up on stage with his trusty acoustic guitar belting out MU330 songs as well as some random material from his solo stuff. I’m not a big acoustic fan, but it was mostly ska and I really enjoyed Dan’s storytelling between songs and, on occasion, during them. He played for a little over a half an hour or so.

The Pilfers were next in line and had an unusually long delay before starting considering Dan Potthast was on stage with only his acoustic guitar and everything of the Pilfers was already set up. Finally they hit the stage to a heavy bass riff and kicked into a set that was very Coolie Ranx heavy. I was surprised to see that the lineup didn’t consist of all of the original members. Missing were Anna Milat-Meyer on bass and Vinny Nobile on trombone. I was disappointed to not be able to hear Vinny play once again, but my understanding is that their personal lives just don’t allow them to travel and tour any more. Their replacements were definitely up to the task though. They tore through some of their hits like “Chawalaleng”, “Show No Fear”, “Yakuza” and “Skungle” to name a few that I recall off the top of my head.

I’m definitely a Pilfers fan, but sometimes Coolie Ranx is just hard understand and with the songs needing to feature him as the lead singer it was a challenge to follow along at times. Something fun about the Pilfers set was that Coolie spent most of it hanging out, dancing and singing in the crowd. I think that he was in the crowd more than he was on stage. He was also pushing a lot of crowd participation and the crowd was very receptive of it.

With the Pilfers set over it seemed that at least one hundred or more people came through the doors and the place was pretty much packed shoulder to shoulder in anticipation of Reel Big Fish. I was looking forward to checking out the new RBF lineup as well as hearing the addition of the sax on many of the RBF classics. I believe that their last tour in Pittsburgh coincided with the release of “Monkeys For Nothing…” so I was also looking forward to possibly hearing some of the cover songs that they released since then as well as hearing some songs from “Candy Coated Fury” live for the first time.

When the lights finally went down and Reel Big Fish made their way onto the stage, the energy was high and the crowd was anxious. RBF kicked it into high gear with the opening track off of “Candy Coated Fury” titled “Everyone Else Is An Asshole”…classy, but danceable enough and effective enough to get the crowd moving and singing along. And then Reel Big Fish went all ’97 and ’98 on us with five songs in a row from “Turn the Radio Off” and “Why Do They Rock So Hard?”…4 out of those 5 songs were from “TTRO” including “Skatanic” and “241”, which I haven’t heard live in a very long time. The next portion of their set list mixed things up with a handful of songs from various albums. “Your Guts (I Hate Em)”, “Good Thing”, “Everybody’s Drunk” and a surprising mid-set list “Sellout” were thrown in there leading up to a strong closing to the regular set that included some personal favorites like “Where Have You Been”, their cover of “The Promise”, “Hate You” and “Beer” as well as “Thank You For Not Moshing” which included a brief cameo by Coolie Ranx on vocals that almost…almost led into RBF and Coolie doing “Song #3”. That would have made my night. Instead, Coolie Ranx ran offstage for no apparent reason and the band played on.

Reel Big Fish’s encore was somewhat predictable with the twenty seven different genre renditions of “S.R.”, one of my new favorite instrumentals in the sax-heavy “Don’t Stop Skankin” and of course RBF’s cover of A-Ha’s “Take On Me” closed out the night.

The highlight of the evening was by far Reel Big Fish’s set list. It was great to see and hear Dan Potthast and get to see the Pilfers once again, but there really was something about RBF that night. Reel Big Fish was one of the very first ska/punk bands that I ever heard way back in the mid 90’s and I’ve probably seen them at least two dozen times, so yes…I am an RBF flag bearer and I don’t really care who hates them or thinks that they don’t have a place at the ska table…but they are far and away one of the most energetic and fun bands that I have ever seen live and the set list on this particular night was more ska oriented than any RBF set in my recent memory. I really feel that since Scott left the band, Aaron was finally able to set Reel Big Fish back onto the ska punk path that they occasionally strayed from. That’s just my personal opinion, but something really did feel different about the band and the set list. There was a lot of chemistry with the new band mates and RBF pretty much played “Turn the Radio Off” in its entirety with a set made up of so many classic RBF songs mixed in with their newer classics and soon to be classics. I am also a big fan of the addition of the saxophone. It gives the band a new dimension and a fuller sound as well as a designated singer for the girl parts in all of the RBF songs. I hope that the sax is here to stay.

On a cold, sub-freezing night in Western Pennsylvania, what’s better than a nice road trip to check out a show chock full of skanking, moshing and sing-alongs? This was definitely one of the best Reel Big Fish shows that I have seen and it was even more memorable with Dan Potthast and the Pilfers tagging along. I hope that it doesn’t take RBF another six years to come back to the ‘Burgh.


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