The Vegas ska scene isn’t exactly the most vibrant, so I was surprised to find that the Valentine’s Day show at the Hard Rock Live, starring Authority Zero, Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish, was completely sold out. People were standing outside the venue asking if anybody had spare tickets, and some guys inside were pleading with the box office girl to let them in. The people who managed to get tickets made up the most diverse ska crowd I’ve ever seen: both younger teenagers and people old enough to be their parents were in attendance. I’m sure many of the latter have been listening to Reel Big Fish since the band’s conception.
Authority Zero is a reggae-influenced skatepunk outfit from Mesa, Arizona. I’ll be honest, I tried to listen to them to familiarize myself before the show, but I just couldn’t get into the music. This changed completely at the show. I’m a sucker for live music, and everyone else was obviously a sucker for Authority Zero. Countless hands and voices were in the air during their set, which, fittingly, included a wedding proposal (she said “yes!”). I’d read in other reviews that lead singer Jason DeVore’s vocals are pretty unintelligible, but I didn’t find that to be the case at all, except during their fast-paced cover of the popular Irish song “The Rattlin’ Bog.” But this wasn’t really a problem for me, since I’d spent a few summers singing it at church camp. But anyway.
I saw Less Than Jake at Warped Tour last summer, and they were good, but they were definitely better this time, probably because this show didn’t take place in the searing heat and there weren’t other stages drowning out the vocals. Less Than Jake has the best crowd interaction I’ve ever seen—the audience was showered with toilet paper, “Happy Skalentine’s Day!” papers, confetti, t-shirts and balloons. Two guys were brought up on stage to drink a huge bowl of beer while the band played “How’s My Driving, Doug Hastings.” They couldn’t finish the bowl by the end of the song, so two more men were brought up to finish it by the end of “We’re All Dudes.”
Keeping with the Valentine’s Day theme, two single teenagers, Danny and Jocelyn, were brought up on stage to kiss during the set. Jocelyn decided to only dance with Danny, so a second girl came on stage and did it (maybe 2 is a lucky number for Less Than Jake?). Less Than Jake jokingly announced that they had been hired to write a jingle for the Pac-Man cereal re-release, which is supposedly in August. I’m willing to bet that a majority of the crowd (including myself) wasn’t even born when Pac-Man cereal was on shelves back in the 80s, but that didn’t stop people from singing and dancing along.
Reel Big Fish are pretty much the poster boys for ska, and they headlined this Valentine’s Day show with upbeat tunes and a party atmosphere. The stage wasn’t as decorated and theatrical as I was expecting, possibly due to the size of the venue. All six members of the band had to decorate themselves instead, each showcasing their own unique style of dress. Trombonist Billy Kottage, for example, was in a full suit, but wore “formal” shorts instead of dress pants. Lead singer Aaron Barrett, not to be outdone, wore a pair of ska-themed sunglasses and a tie, while playing a checkerboard guitar.
Judging from all the singing and dancing, I think it’s safe to say that every single person in the crowd was enjoying themselves. The band were clearly enjoying themselves as well, showcasing their silly personas with “I’m missing Marilyn Manson to be here” becoming a recurring joke throughout the night (Manson was headlining his own sold out show across the street at the House of Blues). There was also plenty of playful banter between Billy Kottage and trumpet player Johnny Christmas during songs like “Your Guts (I Hate ‘Em).” And the band briefly became a 7 piece when bassist Derek Gibbs invited Julie Stoyer, his girlfriend who sang on the 2012 album Candy Coated Fury, out to reprise her role in “I Know You Too Well To Like You Anymore.”
Although I go to shows fairly often, I never thought I’d spend Valentine’s Day at one, let alone seeing two of the biggest bands in the ska scene. At around 25 bucks, the tickets were a steal, so no wonder the show was sold out. Good vibes and positive energy were in the air that night, along with, at one point, lots of middle fingers. My voice is gone and my legs are sore after the show, but I’m incredibly thankful that I got to spend Valentine’s Day with the two loves of my life: my boyfriend, Ian, and ska music.
Photos by Aaron Mattern | https://www.flickr.com/photos/akmofoto/