After lively and fun sets by opening acts Zebrahead and Goldfinger, the crowd was clearly mega-amped for the Fish. And Reel Big Fish was equally ready to get the ass kickery jacked way up. Lead singer and guitarist Aaron Barrett strutted onto the stage decked out in a red suit jacket, black shirt, white tie, and bright white pants with little black strips running through them. Like Barrett's and the band's over-the-top and exuberantly snarky personality, you have to own an outfit like that to make it work.
And own it and the night the Reel Big Fish did. Between opening ("Trendy") and closing ("Sell Out") the show on signature numbers from Turn the Radio Off, the band's first full-length release, Barrett led his band mates and the crowd with master showmanship, rock solid guitar work, and importantly, high hilarity.
"Thank you for giving us the opportunity to kick your asses tonight," Barrett deadpanned near the end of the show. It was all in the delivery, as sublime and spiked with sun splashed So Cal snark as most Reel Big Fish songs.
More commentary of note between numbers:
"This shit is bananas"
"Holy shit, we just kicked your ass with that song!"
"Holy shit, that was intense!"
"This is Matt Wong on bass, kicking your ass."
"Did that tickle your fancy? I think we just tickled your fancy."
It was the music, of course, that really owned the night and truly did kick the asses of a house full of eager fans. Rolling through an impressive number of songs in 90 minutes – many from Why Do They Rock So Hard – Reel Big Fish put on a clinic of magnetically tight horn-play, skanked up guitar, and harmonized vocals, mostly revolving around the two signature RBF themes: being in a band ("Don't Start A Band," "Sell Out," "Trendy," "Alternative Girl," "Why Do We Rock So Hard?" etc.) and having troubles of the romantic sort ("She Has A Girlfriend Now," "I Want Your Girlfriend To Be My Girlfriend Too," "She's Famous Now," etc.).
Hell, if you can own those themes and kick ass with them for more than 10 years, why change up?
Best of all, throughout the night the crowd was treated to well-honed acts that truly knew how to entertain a good natured Gen X rock crowd. "Suburban Rhythm" turned into a Whose Line Is It Anyway-improv routine, with the band switching up styles to find one that, you guessed it, "kicked ass enough." The regular version morphed into double-time speed, then blues, then disco, then country, then – because they "needed to be taken seriously" – old school hip hop (not their most comfortable modality), garage rock in the tradition of The Strokes (much better), thrash metal, and then, finally, in a cacophonous crescendo of musical glory: "emotional romantic" stylings from Barrett with screaming thrash vocals backing. In other words: that's strong.
There was also a diverse selection of cover songs: Aha's "Take on Me," (the obligatory '80s ska cover), Metallica's "Enter Sandman," and, in a lovely ironic bent, Lita Ford's '80s-centric "Kiss Me Deadly." Another nice moment: Goldfinger's John Feldmann ran out on stage to take over the female role on "She Has A Girlfriend Now."
With little pause, Barrett and crew danced and skanked with coordinated moves (wielding the guitar like a mighty sword) and agility, hopping and shaking and exhorting the crowd to join in on the ska vibe group think for all it was worth.
The Avalon, with its Aztec-themed décor and old Hollywood grandeur mixed with just enough grunge to make it street worthy, provided a great setting to catch a heavy on the ska, light on the punk rock show. For all its faults, Hollywood itself has a certain vibe that you don't find anywhere else.
It was the kind of night where people were chatting on line at the balcony bar – a balcony that gave an exceptional vantage point to watch the show and see the raucous but exceptionally behaved crowd "in the pit" (the very location in which – according to the Fish's "In the Pit," where tough guy moshers are scorned to shreds – "…I like to punch and hit, I like to fuck up shit"). It was the kind of night where the balcony barkeep was laid back and friendly enough to have a quick round of banter with:
"What do they call that one," I asked, referring to the drink the customer in front of me had just ordered. "That Red Bull and vodka combo?"
"I don't know," he said. "I think it's just Red Bull and vodka."
"Maybe you should coin the name for the drink," said I.
"How about a Red Bullet?"
"Sounds right on to me."
Los Angeles-natives Goldfinger, who preceded the Fish with about an hour-long set, started out a bit uneven, but eventually won me over with their energetic ska-punk-pop combo. Thankfully, lead singer John Feldmann's voice eventually smoothed out, allowing the band to blast out its best sounding numbers, which incorporate elements of ska and punk and don't dive too deeply into the depths of thrash-dom. "Answers," an old school number with a nice jangly ska groove, was their most effective song of the night.
Feldmann should be wholly commended for going on stage at all as he had torn his left ACL only a few days before the show. The rail thin Feldmann, decked out in a jet black suit and skinny black ska tie, owned the stage nonetheless in a way that even Aaron Barrett would have to admire.
Things got political briefly as Goldfinger rolled through a very competent version of Nena's "99 Red Balloons," an "anti-war song," sung in both English and German. Later, we were treated to "Fuck Ted Nugent" (Feldmann ascribes to the vegan lifestyle). Overall, the political tenor of the evening was decidedly anti-Bush, but what do you expect, it's Hollywood, baby!
Goldfinger is not a band that lets things get serious for very long, however. At what seemed like an accustomed juncture in the show, drummer Darrin Pfeiffer emerged from his kit and announced that it was time to jam a Snickers bar into his ass. Without going into too many lurid details, there was ass, there was candy, there was audience participation and…
Zebrahead was tasked with opening up the night, not an easy gig at six p.m. on a Friday night. However, even with a lackluster crowd that was just finding its sea and, later, ska vibe legs, they pulled off a razor-sharp 30 minutes, with just the right mix of crunching guitars and funk metal rhythm, the great singing voice of Justin Mauriello and hip hop counterpoint of Ali Tabatabaee.