Fun to Be Had
Both members of the SoCal punk scene located around Long Beach, California, Reel Big Fish and Goldfinger have been friends for a long time. Sharing a home at Mojo Records, the band has maintained a friendship as well as a working relationship, with members of Reel Big Fish’s horn section contributing to various Goldfinger tracks over the years. So a shared billing tour should come as no surprise. From this relationship the cleverly titled “Crouching Fish, Hidden Finger Tour” was born.
I’ve been a fan of Reel Big Fish for a long while, but came to truly love and respect their greatness after the release of 1998’s Why Do They Rock So Hard?. I even used their music to help me complete a grad school final, linking their music to the general themes of postmodernism (seriously). However, every chance I’d had to see them live had been blown by one mishap or another, so the chance to see the band on a double bill with Goldfinger was too good to pass up.
Playing back-to-back shows at a mid-sized theater, Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish managed to sell out both nights. If anything, this was impressive for the fact that it’s been years since Reel Big Fish put out an album, and Goldfinger, although a perennial favorite with a relatively new disc in Stomping Ground, hasn’t had a huge amount of support from the MTV empire or many local radio stations. But the strength of both bands’ fan networks and the quality live shows they promise drew an impressively dense crowd of teenaged ska kids and young punks. If the marketers of music had any sense, they’d be paying closer attention to shows like these, filled to capacity for bands that hit the peak of their commercial success in 1997, rather than trying to shovel teen pop down everyone’s throats, but that’s Eisner (CEO of Disney) World for you.
The kids who filled the floors of the Ogden Theater that night came to dance, mosh and crowd surf, and they got their wish. Ultimatum band Sugarcult got the main opening slot for this show and proceeded to fire things up with some energetic rock. Having turned quite a few heads with their performances on the Warped Tour, Sugarcult are a punk-pop band that proves that the beginning and end of the sound doesn’t have to be Blink 182. Their debut album Start Static is slick, pure rock, blending power pop playfulness with a touch of punk for edge, expertly balanced and kept tight and fast. This sophistication carries over into their stage show, and their technical ability and sheer energy was enough to get a crowd of kids split between ska and punk into the spirit of Sugarcult. By the time they played “Daddy’s Little Reject”, one of the best tracks on the disc in terms of blistering rock power, the crowd was dancing along and whooping it up. Closing the show with their anthem-like single, “Stuck in America”, this relatively unknown opening act had the audience singing along and shouting out their appreciation of Sugarcult.
When Reel Big Fish hit the stage next, to the theme from Rocky no less, the crowd exploded. Opening their set ironically with “Down in Flames”, a song about the impending decline of their commercial success, Reel Big Fish set the mood for the type of humor and self-reflexive wit that characterizes their whole act. Aaron Barrett and Scott Klopfenstein were in top form that night, both vocally and in terms of crowd interaction, but this is usually par for the RBF course. If there were any shockers, they came in the form of the horn section. Not having kept up with breaking RBF news in a while, it came as something of a surprise that Tavis Werts had decided to quit the band. However, replacing him is former Spring Heeled Jack trumpeter, Tyler Jones, and his on-stage rapport with trombone player Dan Regan was obvious as the two danced around the stage together.
My conviction that Reel Big Fish are one of the world’s best cover bands was also reaffirmed as they ripped through their classic take on A-Ha’s “Take on Me”, as well as their excellent version of Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly”, playing up on Aaron’s ‘80s metal fetish. Of course the crowd shouted for the college favorite, “Beer”, which the band obligingly gave into after repeated shouts from all side of the theater. And there were the obligatory versions of “Sell Out” and “The Set Up”. But the real fun came during their run through of “Suburban Rhythm”. After the band had finished the version of the song that appears on Turn the Radio Off, they began again, going through the song in different styles, in all replaying the song three times back to back in punk, death metal, and disco styles. For all that, it was the announcement of a new album in April 2002 and playing one of their new songs that drew the most applause. All in all, they put on an excellent, if brief, show.
By the time the equipment changes had been made and the Goldfinger banner was dropped over the back of the stage, I was a little burned out from expending so much energy on the Fish. However, John Feldmann and company kicked things off in high gear. With his hair slicked into a Mohawk, Feldmann got the crowd pumped by leaping around the stage in typical Goldfinger style. The crowd interaction from Goldfinger seemed minimal compared to Reel Big Fish’s joking around, but they managed to keep things moving with crowd-pleasing versions of their staples such as “Here in Your Bedroom”, “End of the Day”, and “Counting the Days”. And if the kids who came to see RBF were dancing up a storm, the Goldfinger fans went ballistic, thrashing around in their enthusiastic response. Goldfinger contributed some of their own covers as well, running through punchy versions of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” from Darrin’s Coconut Ass and Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” from Stomping Ground. Throughout their set the crowds pushed, danced, shoved and surfed keeping the activity at a premium and the frenzied atmosphere thick with excitement.
If I felt any disappointment, it was later, when I’d had a chance to speak to a friend of mine who went to the show the next night. He told me that the line up was reversed with Reel Big Fish playing the last, and longer, set, that they ran through seven versions of “Suburban Rhythm”, and that they had even crazier stage antics than the night before. However, it was difficult to be disappointed by the great performances I’d seen, so it wasn’t much of a loss.
Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish proved what fans have always known. In spite of critics who cling to notions of some abstract golden ring of musical art, and corporations who can only evaluate a band based on the balance sheets, music is most powerful when it inspires fun. Scenes come and go, shift and mutate, but concertgoers can recognize a good show, a good performance, when they see one. The double bill of the “Crouching Fish Hidden Finger Tour” offered a megadose of energy and amusement that was infectious and spread through the entire crowd. I still maintain that Reel Big Fish are an excellent example of postmodern art, and that Goldfinger are populist punk at its finest, but intellectualizing the experience of their concert is really missing the point. Enjoying live music is all about the show, and Reel Big Fish and Goldfinger put on a great show.
When all was said and done, I walked out of the concert happy for a number of reasons. First, I’d broken the curse that kept me from seeing Reel Big Fish and was satisfied enough that I’ll make en effort to catch them live again anytime I have the opportunity. Second, the show was fun from start to finish and it’s difficult to find that at any time. Lastly, the “Crouching Fish, Hidden Finger Tour” proved that a scene could survive the cold shoulder from the big members of the music industry. With the power-punk-pop of Sugarcult, the ska of Reel Big Fish, and the punk of Goldfinger drawing a packed house, decent music is still alive and well.