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Reel Big Fish
April 27, 2003
Skate and Surf Fest - New Jersey

Michelle Lawlor
Contributing Writer

Nobody likes to play to a half-full venue.

Well, last Sunday, nobody cared less about it than Reel Big Fish, playing like they owned the joint. Hell, they should. Charged with as much energy as a cat chewing on and electrical cord, the 6 piece ensemble played a set that would make even Elvis remain in the building.

Closing the three-day "defiance-fest" that bombarded the Jersey Shore with punkers, misfits and wannabe poseurs, Reel Big Fish ensured that the Skate and Surf Fest would not shut its doors without paying a much overdue homage to the now older crowd that gave them the position and influence they have today.

Reel Big Fish has always possessed a unique quality in the fact that while they are "filed" under Ska, they do so much more than stay within such limited boundaries. Blending Ska, Punk, Funk, Reggae and Rock, they have a sound all their own. But it's not like it's gone to their heads. They're the same self-mocking guys (minus a few original horn players) they always were - writing sarcastic songs like "Sellout", "Scott's a Dork" and "We Care."

Reel Big Fish

The crowd that had descended upon Asbury Park's deserted boardwalk and Convention Hall all weekend was mainly under 19 years of age. The range probably dipped as young as 12, going all the way up to the "Punkers for life". Hats off to those folks, learning to put up with the fleeting desires and preferences of a generation who thinks "punk" involves wearing spikes and listening to Avril Lavigne because she's "SO not Britney Spears." Right.

It's that same crowd that quickly dispersed to their sleepy parents' cars waiting outside after Midtown (Drive Thru Records) finished their take on the pop-punk genre. The remaining souls were there for the long haul, and it seemed to be universally understood that the poseur/teeny-bopper departure was a giant "Thank God."

Taking the stage to the Superman theme, Reel Big Fish inspired the tired, sweaty concertgoers (myself included) to make their way down to the now less congested floor one last time to watch. It appeared that the entire audience was sucked into their infectious vibe - all on their feet and if not dancing, at least moving somewhat. It's one of the great mysterious phenomena that concertgoers live for. Sunday's performance was no exception, in spite of the previous two days of non-stop music and moshing.

Mixing the set up with several new tunes from their most recent release Cheer Up (Mojo/Zomba), the band was careful not to abandon it's roots - laid deep and firm with 1996's release Turn the Radio Off (Mojo/Zomba). Opening with a crowd favorite "All I Want is More," the band turned the energy up three notches, filling the massive convention hall with echoes of a clearly different sound than it had heard all weekend.

Trumpet/Vocalist Scott Klopfenstein has, somewhere along the way, trained his fingers to also play the guitar alongside singer/lead guitarist Aaron Barrett. The two combined at times for cock-rock-reminiscent solos that give a lighthearted shout-out to the hair bands of the eighties. After all, that's what these guys listened to and were inspired by. Taking that sound, tweaking it and incorporating energetic horns may have been the best idea they've ever had.

It must be noted that in past years, lead singer/guitarist Aaron Barrett has appeared less than excited to be on stage, almost apathetic at times. Well, maybe it was just a phase, because the jumping, energetic and downright silly frontman of RBF circa 1996 has returned full force. This time, he's sporting an arsenal of new guitar licks, mighty fast fingers, and of course, some amazing new Hawaiian shirts.

Working off the chemistry of new members Carlos De La Garza and Tyler Jones, Reel Big Fish breathed new life into the partied out crowd. The once sluggish bunch was now as fired up as it had been Friday afternoon at the festival's kickoff. Too bad the little "punkers" missed the best act of the weekend. Maybe next year, kids.

Michelle Lawlor is a Contributing Writer. Contact her at michelle@rockzone.com.

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