Springfest started with a bang on Saturday, April 26, when well-known ska-punk band Reel Big Fish took over Maxcy Hall Gymnasium. Many fans got their tickets in advance, and several just showed up at the venue.
The opener, Brad Byrd, an acoustic singer-songwriter, did not fit the bill at all. Some audience members said he was trying too hard to sound like Bob Dylan, and thought that alt-country didn’t belong on a bill with an upbeat ska band. People in the audience rudely booed and chanted “folk sucks.” Singer Brad Byrd has played at SUNY Potsdam before to a better reception from the crowd, but most concertgoers agreed that this opener was simply the wrong feel for the show.
Reel Big Fish stormed the stage to chants of their name. They opened with their big hit, “Sell Out,” off of their most popular album, Turn the Radio Off. The crowd was dancing immediately, though clearly not as hard as they would have liked, with moshing not allowed at the event. Charismatic singer Aaron Barrett, with his signature California style, sang right to audience members to approving screams. Other tracks they played spanned their discography, from Cheer Up! to their new album Monkeys for Nuthin’ and the Chimps for Free. Towards the end of the set, they played more favorites, such as “Beer” and “She Has a Girlfriend Now,” which, by the way, is based on a true story. Several concertgoers attempted to crowd surf, and security guards at the front of the stage promptly removed them from the top of the crowd. Although it was previously stated that crowd surfing was not allowed, these audience members were not penalized, and were allowed to stay in the show.
During a laid-back pre-show interview, the band attributed their success over the years to their dedicated fans. Through the years, the band has gone through a myriad of line-up changes, but the reason they keep making music is that they “don’t want to do anything else,” said lead singer, Aaron Barrett. “Most of the time bands break up because the fans stop coming, but the fans keep coming.” “It’s better to say, ‘hey, let’s get a new [musician]’ than…let’s quit,” Barrett pointed out. The band has no venue preference: they said that they like to play anywhere there are people.
Making fun of themselves on stage also wins over fans, they say. It is that high energy, fun-loving attitude that gets the audience involved. They danced and kicked across the stage, often making crazy faces and dressed in slightly mis-matched garb.
Ska might not be as popular of a genre now as it was in the early 90s, but Barrett liked it because of “the funness of it, and the exoticness of it, and the danciness of it, and the island rhythms…I was always a fan of lots of kinds of music…[in Reel Big Fish] we can take all these types of music and mix them together.” When the band got together in the early 90s, “all the local bands were playing ska.” No Doubt and Sublime were just getting big and contributed to the success of the genre.
After touring for so many years, it’s to be expected that some line-ups and shows played will have been a bit strange. Reel Big Fish played only the night before with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and have played in the past with rapper 50 Cent. They said one of the best line-ups they’ve ever played was their tour last summer with Less Than Jake.
Although members of the band said that they do keep up with current music, they haven’t found anything exciting coming out. On the bus, the band listens to music such as Frank Zappa, Destroyer, Elvis Costello, Rasputin’s Stash, Fugazi, and The Frogs. They cite the ipod as the “best thing that ever happened,” saving them from bringing huge cases full of CDs on tour. Aaron Barrett calls American Idol a “travesty…the most horrible thing to happen to music ever,” with the soprano saxophone as a close second. Other ways of passing the time on the bus include playing Call of Duty, Brain Age, and Scrabble (although they aren’t too good at it.)
Those who simply arrived at the concert when doors opened would have no way of knowing how much preparation and hard work it took the members of Student Entertainment Services and the crew to make the show happen. Load-in and set-up started at 8am, and members of the organization worked non-stop all day to make the event a success.
Reel Big Fish’s latest album, Monkeys for Nuthin’ and the Chimps for Free is available now. They will be touring on the Vans Warped Tour all summer. To hear Reel Big Fish, visit their website at http://www.reel-big-fish.com or their myspace at http://www.myspace.com/reelbigfish.
Photos credited to Ben O’Brien Smith.