Reel Big Fish: Live at the Aztec Theater

Did you feel it? Did you feel the stars align and the gates of awesomeness open up last night? I did, too. February 2 marked the San Antonio stop of Reel Big Fish’s ‘Turn the Radio Off’ 20th Anniversary Tour. Playing at the Aztec Theater and supported by punk legends Anti-Flag, Reel Big Fish unleashed a torrent of skank-atude that the world needed more than anything right now.

I’ve loved ska since I was a kid. I did grow up in the ’90s, after all. Reel Big Fish, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Goldfinger, Streetlight… There’s just something about the insane melding of reggae and punk music that makes you feel like all the problems in the world are gone, even if just for a brief 2:30 minutes . But last night was more than 2:30 minutes. RBF completed the entirety of their first (well, second, technically) album, Turn the Radio Off, along with a couple other hits – and a couple other band’s hits. But as great as the show was, I’m not really sure I want to see Reel Big Fish again. I’ll get more into that later.

The first band to go on stage came all the way down from Ontario, Canada to grace us with their skate-punk presence. PkewPkewPkew (pronounced ‘Pew Pew Pew’) was an auditory delight. Too often these days, the true feeling of punk music is lost to poppy vocals and shitty guitar riffs. But this wasn’t the case with PkewPkewPkew.

Their frontman, at least the guy who talked the most, slash singer slash lead guitarist had great lyrical ability, creating lines like those found in the song he dubbed ‘The song about when I quit smoking.’

It’s been one year since I left you and I miss you so bad. Cigarettes. You’re all that I want. 

And then there’s Mid-20s Skateboarder, which I can’t relate to as a skater, but I can relate to as a 25-year-old who is now feeling the day-after effects of moshing for two hours straight.

Mid-20s skateboarder. I hope I don’t get hurt. Drinkin’ a six pack of beer takes away all of the fear.

The guitar parts were excellent, their drummer had some definite skill, and the vocal harmonies were on point. I definitely recommend them to anyone interested in a classic punk sound. Check out their Bandcamp page here.

Next came BalyHoo. I… I don’t even want to talk about it. They started out kind of ska, kind of punk, kind of Sublime-y, really, which I immediately regretted thinking as they began their second song. The further along in their setlist they got, more and more knives got jabbed into my ears. A lot of people around us were really excited about them, and I could see how you would be if you were into pop-punk, but it really wasn’t for me. You can not check them out here, because I can’t in good faith put a link to their music up on this blog.

Anti-Flag was next and they blew me away. I’d heard some of their stuff back when I was in middle school, which was… God… A LONG time ago, but I spent the last couple weeks listening to some of their newer (and much older) stuff, and they put on a great show.

Probably the best thing about Anti-Flag’s performance was the absolute love that radiated from the band. I’m a classicist, by degree and by punk nature, and it makes me feel so good inside when I here people talk about the actual spirit of punk: loving each other and respecting each other, not being an ass hole to everyone and everything. Good on you, Anti-Flag, for keeping that spirit alive. That made my heart happy and I hope that people remember that punk isn’t about being a little piece of shit. Punk is about love.

Then… the big moment arrived. Every time I see them, I remember why I love them so much. There was so much energy in that room. So much love. So much unadulterated fun. Well, fun until that one inevitable ass hole gets put into a chokehold and dragged out of the pit for being too violent.

Everyone was playing to their fullest. Aaron Barret was fantastic as always. Johnny Christmas was rocking that trumpet like nobody’s business. The… new guys… were all very good. I really liked the addition of a saxophone into the horn section. It brought a lot of depth to the horns that made them sound really deep and full

But of everything about the show, Scott’s absence was definitely the most noticeable. One of RBF’s defining characteristics is their ridiculous witty banter they have in between songs. It livens up the crowd. It makes you laugh. It makes you feel like you’re seeing Reel Big Fish. This time, Aaron was trying to hold it together so hard. And don’t get me wrong, he was funny as always, but he was definitely missing something without his right hand man. Throughout the entire set I was waiting to hear Scott to chime in. Aaron would still leave little pauses in his jokes for for a little quip from someone in the band, but there was a noticeable lack of energy on the stage that made me kind of sad. Just a bit though. Nothing that a good bout of skanking couldn’t fix.

As much as I love them, as much as I love ska, as much as I love a good skanking, I think this’ll be my last time seeing RBF. I don’t see Scott coming back anytime soon for obvious medical reasons, and as much as I love Aaron Barret, I want to remember them for the good times. For the first time I saw them at Warped Tour with my summer crush. For the time my mom drove me all the way to Corpus Christi to see them at Concrete Street and I saw a dude try to do a backflip in the pit and land on his head, cracking his skull open. For the time we saw them at Backstage Live and they had all the doors shut in the middle of summer with smoking allowed and no AC and they ran out of bottled water and were refusing to give out free water in cups. When our crew went to Jim’s afterward and I chugged down two entire waiter’s pitchers full of icy cold H2O.

And for the time Kelsey got me tickets to their 20th anniversary show as a fantastic Christmas present. Where I saw one of my favorite bands of all time play through the entirety of their second album. Where I got punch and kick in a pit for the first time in a long time. Where I got to remember what punk was really about and feel peace, love, and music pulse through my veins.

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