Date: January 11, 2017
Opening Bands: Direct Hit, Ballyhoo
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of their albums “Turn the Radio Off” and “Die For the Government”, two bands that you wouldn’t think would go out on tour together did just that with both bands having plans to play deep cuts from their classic albums.
The mid-90s were a great time for ska and punk music. The punk scene had albums like “My Brain Hurts”, “And Out Come the Wolves”, “Dookie”, “Smash”, “Punk In Drublic”, “Big Choice” and “The Gang’s All Here” to name a few. The third wave of ska music was mixing traditional and two tone ska music with punk and hardcore music bring about such albums as “Question the Answers”, “Let’s Face It”, “Universal”, “The Question”, “Hang Ups”, “The Band Geek Mafia”, “Fever”, “Hello Rockview”, “Willis” and many more. You could hear bands like Rancid and the Dropkick Murphys on the radio…yes mainstream radio…alongside bands such as Reel Big Fish, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Goldfinger and the Pietasters.
Two of the biggest bands from those two scenes twenty years ago never stopped writing music, releasing albums and touring. While the only remaining founding member of Reel Big Fish is singer/songwriter/guitarist Aaron Barrett, the band released their eighth studio album in 2012 with their most recent release being a holiday-themed EP in 2014.
Anti-Flag’s lineup has changed slightly since their inception, with the current lineup being the same since the late 90s. Between touring the globe and funding various benefits and supporting many positive causes, they’ve managed to release ten full-length albums including “Die For Your Government”.
Coming with the band for this leg of the tour are Milwaukee, WI punk stalwarts Direct Hit as well as Maryland reggae rockers Ballyhoo. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a show with a lineup that I’m this familiar with and in which I really like each band.
Up first was Direct Hit, whose punk fury and energy was pitted against a dull and lifeless crowd who was just settling into place and was not quite ready for the show to begin yet. It didn’t take long for the punkers in the crowd to grasp what was happening on the stage and shortly into the set the mosh pits began to slowly form. Direct Hit played with a lot of energy and genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves and the crowd began to return the favor with some applause and cheers. One of my favorite songs and one of their catchiest tunes “Buried Alive” really got the crowds’ attention. Having never seen Direct Hit live in concert, they were definitely one of the highlights of the show.
Ballyhoo had the pleasure of following up Direct Hit, and their reggae rock sounds had the crowd dancing and moving in a different way. Their set was mellower than what I was expecting, with a lot of slower rock and reggae focused songs as well as some good old fashioned doo-wop. They also played some tracks from their recently release album “Girls”.
It’s still weird for me to think about this phrase but up next was Anti-Flag opening for Reel Big Fish. While Reel Big Fish announced that they would be playing “Turn the Radio Off” in its entirety on this tour, Anti-Flag was only planning on playing select tracks and deep cuts off of “Die For the Government”. They ended up playing over half of the album with songs like “Davey Destroyed the Punk Scene”, “I’m Being Watched By the CIA”, “Rotten Future” and “Drink Drank Punk” appearing alongside current setlist staples like “Die For the Government” and “Fuck Police Brutality”. They even joked about Reel Big Fish asking them to join the tour and if they knew how to play any ska…which was followed up by “Summer Squatter Go Home”, one of few ska-influenced Anti-Flag tracks out there. I honestly couldn’t ever remember them playing that live to boot.
After the “Die For the Government” tracks, Anti-Flag finished off with some of their more recent favorites with “Turncoat”, One Trillion Dollars” and “This Is The End (For You My Friend)”. They closed their set with a cover of the Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and, obviously, “Brandenburg Gate” which closes out most Anti-Flag shows.
Over the years, I’ve lost interest in the political direction of Anti-Flag as well as the change in their music. Hearing them play the tracks that got me into the band in the first place was a refreshing sound and had me digging out their earlier stuff to listen to all over again. For me, this was definitely the best Anti-Flag set in years.
Closing out the night was one of my favorite bands in Reel Big Fish. Since the band promised to play “Turn the Radio Off” in its entirety, this would be the first time that I can recall in twenty years, that I will finally be able to hear the band play my favorite song of theirs. Having easily seen RBF live between 2-5 times a year since 1997 I cannot ever remember them playing “I’ll Never Be” live in the Pittsburgh or State College area. I know this because I’ve been hoping to hear it at every single show to no avail. Now it was a motherfucking guarantee!!!! But first they kicked things off with a few other random tracks.
The band hit the stage and immediately went into “I Want Your Girlfriend To Be My Girlfriend Too” followed by “Thank You For Not Moshing” and “Another F.U. Song”. They then got the crowd excited for “Turn the Radio Off” but said they had one more for us first and jumped into “Your Guts (I Hate ‘Em). And then it was time to throw back to 1996.
Another odd thing about this show was that “Sellout”, which usually comes later in the setlist or as an encore, is the first track on “Turn the Radio Off”. It threw me off hearing it so early. Reel Big Fish then made their way through the entire album track by track with the exception of a song that they “apparently” forgot about. More on that later.
Songs like “Trendy”, “241”, “All I Want Is More”, “She Has A Girlfriend Now” and “Everything Sucks” are staples of most RBF shows but it was absolutely awesome to hear songs that they haven’t played live in ages such as “Snoop Dog, Baby”, “Say Ten” and “Skatanic”. “Skatanic” is definitely not a song on many RBF setlists and it was cool to have the mood set with eerie red lighting and a furious crowd screaming every evil pissed off word in sync. And finally, after 20 years, I got to hear “I’ll Never Be” live. I’ll never understand why they don’t play that song more often. The crowd loved it as did I.
After finishing off with “Alternative, Baby”, the band informed the audience that they had forgotten a song and had to think of what was missing. They then played about half of “The Impression That I Get” by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones before realizing that they didn’t write that song. The crowd was never fooled and Reel Big Fish then jumped into the forgotten track…”Beer” to end the set.
Obviously there would be an encore and I thought that it was really cool that they kicked off the encore with the hidden track on “Turn the Radio Off”…”I’m Cool”. They closed out the night with “Everyone Else Is An Asshole”, “Where Have You Been” and their cover of “Take On Me”.
Overall, this entire show has been emblazoned in my memory banks as one of the most enjoyable and memorable shows that I have had the pleasure of attending. Maybe it was the fact that two bands that heavily influenced my musical tastes in my youth were playing some of the albums that got me into punk and ska. Maybe it was the fact that the two opening bands are also held in high regard in my music collection. Maybe the crowd was rowdy and full of energy and also knew all of the words to all of the songs and just sang along all night.
To me this show felt like the heyday of the Warped Tour for me, when it didn’t matter if there was a hip-hop band amongst the punk, ska, reggae and rock bands. People were just there to hear great music and have a good time with their friends and peers. Maybe I’m looking back through nostalgia goggles or maybe I’m just getting old and yearn for those summer days of youth. It’s good to know that there’s a sold out crowd’s worth of others that feel the same way as I do.