Saturday, 21 October 2017

Gig Review: Reel Big Fish and Anti Flag at The Forum, Kentish Town 17/10/17

The Fireball Whiskey Fuelling The Fire tour was back in London last week for what I believe was the third year in a row. Each year Fireball Whiskey grab some of the biggest names in American ska and punk and team them with some up and comers from the UK punk scene. This year's featured Reel Big Fish, Anti Flag and The Mad Caddies teaming up with Fireball's hottest band of 2017, Sweet Little Machine, and a competition winner for each different night of the tour. London was lucky enough to have two shows, two nights in a row at The Forum in Kentish Town. Due to having an all-dayer at the New Cross Inn on the Sunday, Emma and I decided it would be smarter to go to the second London date on the Tuesday Night.

Opening up the night were competition winners The Bottom Line and then Sweet Little Machine. The Bottom Line played high energy pop punk that ticked all of the pop punk boxes. There was hand clapping, in sync jumping and plenty of whoa-ohs. The highlight of the set for me was their cover of the Wheatus classic Teenage Dirtbag. I'd previously seen Sweet Little Machine supporting Me First and the Gimme Gimmes and Masked Intruder back in February and was impressed by their pop rock sound. Now they've released their debut full length album Monsters and played a bunch of songs from it. Sweet Little Machine are clearly a very polished band who seem born to play at big club shows. I can't actually imagine them playing in the backroom of a pub. Frontman Alex is a born showman and expertly owns the stage and, at times, the floor. I feel like it won't be long before Sweet Little Machine are household names.

California band The Mad Caddies have a long time been favourites of mine and, after seeing them at Slam Dunk festival earlier in the year, Emma was now firmly on board the Caddies ship too. The Mad Caddies are now in their 22nd year as a band and probably sound better than ever. Their unique mix of punk, ska, reggae and polka immediately gets the London crowd moving, whether it's skanking, moshing or simply just tapping your toes. It's impossible to remain still when the Caddies are on stage. The Caddies set had a good mix of the band's slow and fast songs. The slower songs included Lay Your Head Down, Brand New Scar, Souls For Sale and Shoot Out The Lights, while the fast ones included Leavin', Contraband, No Hope and of course, the silliest of songs, Monkeys. Monkeys is one that really gets the crowd moving. I always think that the Mad Caddies are of the most underrated bands of their era, often overlooked when people talk about the best bands from that era of punk and ska. That's a shame because they are always incredible when they play live and they have a back catalogue of music of such quality that most bands should be jealous of. I mean they didn't even play two of their most popular songs tonight (Drinking For 11 and Road Rash) and not a single person seemed disappointed. The Mad Caddies could have easily headlined this tour themselves and are complete legends. Hopefully they'll be back in the UK soon for their own headline tour.

Pittsburgh punk rockers Anti Flag seemed like a strange choice to be sandwiched between ska punk juggernauts The Mad Caddies and Reel Big Fish but for some reason it worked wonderfully. I think this was because Anti Flag are simply an incredible live punk band. Taking to the stage and launching into one of their biggest hits, This Is The End (For You My Friend), gets the Kentish Town Forum crowd going crazy immediately. Bass player and co-lead vocalist Chris #2 is like a man possessed as he bounds around the stage between screaming out the words. In the few times that it's possible to take your eyes off of him you see guitarist and other co-lead vocalist Justin Sane dancing around the stage with a similar intensity. Anti Flag have always been a band that spread their political message through their music and they waste no time getting to the hard stuff with the classic Fuck Police Brutality. Anti Flag really are a band that pull no punches with their lyrical content. It's not long before Chris #2 has the crowd screaming the chorus back to the band. A particular highlight for me, and perhaps many others, was when they played Turncoat. A song that first got me, and probably a lot of other people, into the band. Another highlight was when the band played new tune When The Wall Falls which is actually a ska punk song. I never thought Anti Flag would write a ska song. There was a nice moment where the Reel Big Fish horn section took to the stage to add some brass to the track. Other highlights in the set included The Press Corpse, 1 Trillion Dollar$, their cover of Should I Stay Or Should I Go, Die For The Government and set closer Brandenburg Gate. During Brandenburg Gate, Chris #2 and drummer Pat Thetic climbed into the crowd, complete with instruments and microphone to complete the set in some style. It created a fantastic image of solidarity between the band and the crowd. Like I said earlier and like you probably were already aware, Anti Flag are a political band. At times using their set to talk about all the bad things that are happening in the world at the moment and about fighting back. I liked how it never felt preachy - nobody likes to be preached at - it's just inspiring. Justin Sane made a fantastic point by saying that despite all of the atrocities in the world he feels like the people fighting back are winning because of all the positive changes that have happened within society over the past twenty years. I hadn't seen Anti Flag in about five years before tonight and they were well worth the wait. One of my favourite sets of the year.

Finally it was time for ska punk legends from the 90s - Reel Big Fish! I'd wager that everyone at The Forum has probably seen Reel Big Fish at some point over the years and knows all of the antics the band get up to on stage. I'd also wager that despite knowing the antics, they all loved it just as much or maybe even more than the first time they saw it. Reel Big Fish have been doing the same thing for years and years but fans always flood to go and see them live again and again. Why? Because they are so so bloody good at what they do! Coming on stage to the sounds of Olé before launching into the classic Everything Sucks, the floor at The Forum becomes one huge skank pit with the room dancing along and singing with glee. Having not released a new album since 2012s Candy Coated Fury this was truly a best of set with favourites spanning the band's whole 25 year career and of course the odd cover thrown in for good measure. Led by singer, guitarist and all around entertainer Aaron Barrett, the band go through classic after classic with each song seemingly getting a bigger reactions than the last. Everyone Else Is An Asshole had a huge sing-along followed up by Trendy which just sent the crowd into a wild frenzy. Drinkin' is a song they don't seem to play that often but was obviously a perfect for this Fireball Tour. Your Guts (I Hate You) is just a perfect song to give everyone a bit of a rest and just have a big old smiley sing song. It's actually quite an angry song but you can't help but smile when you hear it. After a brilliant cover of Brown Eyed Girl there was a lovely surprise when Laila from UK ska punk band Sonic Boom Six came out to help the band with the female part of She Has A Girlfriend Now. Ever the show-woman Laila potentially upstaged Barrett during the song with an extremely polished performance of the song. After another extremely happy but impossible not to smile song in the form of Another F.U. Song it was time for the hits. Like at Slam Dunk back in May, the band teased the crowd by playing parts of famous 90s tracks Smells Like Teen Spirit, My Own Worst Enemy, 500 Miles and The Impression That I Get before eventually going into their own song Sell Out. Probably the song that got the biggest reaction of the entire night. Following this up with crowd favourite Toots & The Maytals cover Monkey Man and finishing the main set with Beer was perfect. The fun wasn't finished there though. It wasn't long before Barrett and then eventually the rest of the band returned to the stage for what's probably my favourite Reel Big Fish song, Where Have You Been. Then we did get what I thought was the biggest surprise of the night was when the band started the many versions of S.R. This was surprising given that they'd already played the long version of the 90s songs and we were into the encore. Who plays a 10 minute long song in the encore? Reel Big Fish, that's who. Finally it was time for the show to actually finish but not before one last cover, probably the band's most well known track, Take On Me. What a great way to finish the night.

This was a great night of punk and ska music. All for the incredibly cheap price of £12.50 (the ticket price was actually £10 but then booking fees). There was a great sense of nostalgia around the night with three classic bands that I grew listening to. Seeing them all play together was just a 2002 dream come true.

This gig review was written by Colin Clark. Photos taken by Emma Prew.

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