REVIEW: Reel Big Fish, O2 Academy, Newcastle

Reel Big Fish in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.
Reel Big Fish in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Californian ska-punk legends Reel Big Fish put on a party at a packed O2 Academy on their latest visit to the North East.

Despite only vocalist Aaron Barrett remaining from their original 1991 line-up, the band remain good fun, and showed why they remain such popular and enduring live performers across the globe.

Reel Big Fish in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Reel Big Fish in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Hitting huge mainstream heights in the late 1990s thanks to hit single Sell Out, and continuing to be revered within the alternative crowd that made up much of Friday's audience, the band have sustained their popularity in a way that few of their peers have been able to.

Certainly, when Goldfinger - a band who paved the way for their success - played at the Academy earlier this year, they performed in the small upstairs venue, a room that Reel Big Fish remain way too big for.

It was no surprise, then, that the main venue was packed out for a gig suitably scheduled for the start of the weekend - with queues for doors at half-past six, although some of those waiting were there to see the local punk band Death to Indie open for the early crowd.

The main support came courtesy of Suburban Legends, whose drummer Ed Larsen currently performs with Reel Big Fish, and who formed at the height of the 'third wave of ska' - as ska-punk is sometimes called - in 1998.

Reel Big Fish in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Reel Big Fish in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Melding a ska sound with some poppier numbers and the genre's familiar covers, the support put on a set that was simply great fun, joking with the crowd and throwing in some well-rehearsed dance routines for good measure.

Vocalist Vince Walker would unsuccessfully attempt to down a bottle of beer ("Tuborg sucks!", he quipped), while lead guitarist Brian Klemm dived into the crowd.

Such antics got the audience on-board, as they enthusiastically participated in a musical singalong to the words 'Reel Big Fish', as well as covers of Sweet Caroline and - curiously - The Little Mermaid's Under The Sea.

It was such a good support set that, at one point, it seemed like the headliners could be upstaged - although, in the end, Suburban Legends simply warmed up the crowd in the best possible way for Reel Big Fish's appearance.

Reel Big Fish in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Reel Big Fish in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Starting with the cheery Everyone Else is an A**hole, Reel Big Fish quickly got into their stride, throwing in their most famous song Sell Out at an early stage.

The band made it big young, and the teenage angst evident in their lyrics - not to mention numerous songs about petty dating break-ups - can seem odd as both mainstay Aaron Barrett and the newer members inevitably age.

But in a live setting, this disparity is irrelevant, especially as the band have retained their juvenile edge - making jokes about their "unprotected sax", for example - and their energy on-stage.

The less upbeat numbers in their back catalogue were the low moments of the show, but they were few and far between, and perhaps acted as a breather before favourites such as Beer and a buoyant cover of ska favourite Monkey Man.

Reel Big Fish in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Reel Big Fish in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

The show ended with live staple Take On Me, a brassy and upbeat cover of the A-ha classic that acted as their other breakout hit in the late 1990s.

Reel Big Fish show no signs of winding down their career, despite being reduced to the final bone of their original carnation.

In the long run it may be down to the fresher Suburban Legends, and newer groups such as Survay Says, to fly the inimitable flag of ska-punk - although, for now, 'the Fish' remain the kings, and continue to be an essential live music experience.

Reel Big Fish in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Reel Big Fish in action at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Suburban Legends threatened to steal the show as they opened for Reel Big Fish at the O2 Academy. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Suburban Legends threatened to steal the show as they opened for Reel Big Fish at the O2 Academy. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Suburban Legends threatened to steal the show as they opened for Reel Big Fish at the O2 Academy. Pic: Katy Blackwood.

Suburban Legends threatened to steal the show as they opened for Reel Big Fish at the O2 Academy. Pic: Katy Blackwood.