Today, 4/11/15, is quite a momentous day for me as it's the fifth anniversary of the first ‘proper’ gig that I ever attended. I was twenty-four years old at the time, which is obviously much older than most people start going to gigs, and I really don't know why it took me so long to do it. I should have gone to one in May of the same year but I broke my leg two days before The King Blues were set to headline Colchester Arts Centre. This gig was Less Than Jake with support from special guests Zebrahead along with We Are The Union and This Contrast Kills at the O2 Academy in Oxford with my friends Smurf, Scouse, Brad and Moles. Here is my account of what happened that night and how it changed my life for the better.
Due to my lack of experience of going to gigs we ended up getting to the venue quite early so we could get down to the front for the gig, not realising we could just as easily made our way to the front whatever time we showed up due to the size of the venue. The first band up was This Contrast Kills from Milton Keynes. This Contrast Kills featured three of the four members of legendary UK skacore band Capdown. This was my first time ever seeing what I would consider a proper band play live and I have to say I was kind of underwhelmed by everything. It was nothing like I expected at all. I've seen loads of videos of people going completely nuts at gigs and I naively assumed that this was the case for every band no matter what kind of following than have. I'd never heard This Contrast Kills play a note of music before but to me the sound didn't sound anything like how I imagined it might. Looking back This Contrast Kills were by no means bad but something didn't feel right about their set.
I had heard some music from the next band, We Are The Union from Detroit. At the time they were being proclaimed by many to be the next big thing in the world of ska punk, so to be on this tour must have been a massive opportunity for them. I can't remember a whole lot about the set to be honest but I must have been quite impressed as at the end of the night I bought a shirt and a CD. From what I do remember We Are The Union played with a lot of energy and put everything they had into their performance, something I soon discovered is common in every single punk bands performance. Do artists from any other genre put more of themselves into a performance than the punks do?
Zebrahead were up next, a band I have now seen five times and who have become one of my all-time favourite live acts (even if last time I saw them I got kicked in the head). I credit Zebrahead as being the first band that made me realise what a crazy punk show can be like. The five of us were right on the railing at the front (I was still having to use a crutch at the time so it seemed sensible) but the crowd behind us were going wild for Zebrahead as we sung along with the band as loudly as we could. I was amazed by just how good they were as a live act, really getting the crowd going and never managing to miss a note or beat. They had the crowd in the palm of their collective hands, getting them to participate in various songs by either sitting down, singing a chorus or making hand symbols. The crowd were there to party just as hard as the band. Live videos on YouTube are good but nothing can prepare you for the experience of Zebrahead live. There's a reason that they have been going for as long as they have: they are very, very good!
Finally it was time for Less Than Jake. Probably my all time favourite band. I loved them as a teenager and I still love them now as a nearly thirty year old man. Their music has always made me want to sing and dance and this first time seeing them live really cemented my love for them as a band. I don't think that there is a more entertaining and fun band on the planet than Less Than Jake. I have since seen them ten times, more than any other band, and every time I've felt like I've had more fun than anyone in the world. I remember going nuts for every single song they played, going through songs from their entire discography. I had really lost all inhibitions by this point and I can remember Smurf saying at the end of the night that he looked over and had never seen me looking as happy as I did during their set. Like Zebrahead before them, Gainesville's finest had the crowd worked into a frenzy of skanking, moshing and circle pits as well as plenty of crowd surfers. They invited people on stage to dance and to "make out" with each other and play various other games. I remain convinced that even if you hate Less Than Jake's music you will be majorly entertained by their set.
This gig was a real turning point in my life. I fell in love with live music. I have always enjoyed music and really enjoyed punk and ska in my late teens but I really properly fell in love with the genre at this gig. Nothing ever had given me such a high, not even the morphine I was allowed to take in hospital! There was something about the passion and energy coming from the stage that got me hooked on gigs. I don't think I'll ever stop going to them, it gives me a feeling like nothing else and it brings me to life. Since this gig I have been to 163, including 52 in 2013, seeing 334 different bands in 48 different places and almost every time I've come away feeling amazing. Gigs are great!