I’ve lived on Long Island my whole life, however I am attending college in the area, so this is my first time witnessing a show in Syracuse. The venue is called Club Tundra, and although it is a much smaller place than I have ever seen Reel Big Fish play in, it is very nice and as I learn, has an excellent sound system. Little did I know this would be perhaps the most important show of my life. Read on…
I arrive just as The Littlest Man Band begins their set. The lead singer, Scott Klopfenstein of LMB is the background vocalists/trumpet/guitarist from RBF. And the trombonist, Dan Regan, shares stages for both bands as well. I was immediately transfixed by Scott’s ability to lead a band and sing with such passion. The band’s sound is definitely original and is more slow rock then anything punk. However they do have a horn section which gives them a ska sound throughout their music. Scott will also grab the piano to add a little extra flavor. I was impressed by this band from the start and their originality led me to purchasing the CD at the show, mind you this is the first time I have ever done this without previously hearing a band that was not part of a local scene. They played most of the songs off their album Better Book Ends and one new one which name slipped my mind. My favorite song and most memorable would be the horn-driven ballad “Stayed Away Too Long.” If you liked their first album, you are gonna like the sound of their new stuff.
Next up is another California band who was shocked by the cold weather, Mêlée (pronounced Maylay). Even though their in-between song banter lacked entertainment, they put on a fairly decent set. This Sub-City records band piano based rock was interesting. The slower songs tended to drag, while their faster songs tended to keep you awake. The band appeared stronger when the frontman grabbed the piano and left his guitar by his side. Suddenly the band turned into an interesting Billy Joel meets punk rock sound. Maybe a little too poppy for some but they had just enough rock in them to find me being a fan of a new band to me for the second time in the night.
Reel Big Fish has never been the band who has the lyrics that inspire you or the music that will influence generations to come. Will it happen, yes, but there are better bands out there to do it instead. However, what RBF has always provided is fun albums with catchy horn lines and good pick me up songs to listen to when you feel like being in a good mood. They have provided a great live show time and time again, where the crowd seems to leave with a smile and wanting more. The lead singer Aaron Barret is arguably one of the best frontmen in the business. He has a good voice … not the best, but his stage presence, energy, and wacky outfits has always been phenomenal. After two solid opening acts I was thirsty for the night to get better … I would be shocked with what I was about to witness.
They enter the stage to the delight of the Central New York crowd who has been looking for a reason to skank and sing along all night to a familiar band, and my eyes are immediately transfixed upon Barret. The guy look like he just rolled out of bed! He is wearing, well pretty much pajamas, and he’s got a nice bed head look going. I immediately assured myself that this was a look he was going for and was just a goofy “costume.” I smiled at this sense of style … I should’ve trusted my instincts. It takes one song, “Dateless Losers” to realize something is wrong here. Barret is drunk. Not crazy drunk, that would provide for a wild live concert. More like … reclusive, I hate my life kinda drunk. The energy was gone and I don’t think he said one word to the crowd throughout the set besides maybe a quick “thank you” on the last note of each song. The set progresses and the band plays equal parts of their last three albums including the aforementioned “Dateless Losers” and in no particular order “Ban the Tube Top”, “Rock N’ Roll is Bitchin” and “Good Thing,” ”She’s Famous Now,” ”Thank You For Not Moshing,” ”The Set Up (You Need This),” ”You Don’t Know,” ”Everything Sucks,” ”Join the Club” and two partial covers including Sublime’s “Garden Grove” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” You might notice this set lacking in the amount of songs and containing rather few “hits” of theirs. Well, read on.
The set being played is flat out lousy. It was simply too slow and lacking in energy for a live show, especially compared to what they normally show up with. Once again, singer/guitarist Aaron Barret is not talking between songs and not singing with feeling and screwing up lyrics. He is missing his own lyrics. Background vocalist Scott, gives him a look when singing the second verse instead of the verse on at least two occasions. Let me assure you that the rest of the band is into the music and interacting with the crowd, showing off great energy, but the band NEEDS Barrett to perform as usual or they will suffer like they did tonight. As the set progresses Barrett grabs the microphone and turns his back to the crowd and sort of sulks as he sings to no one in particular. He drops his mic several time and a guitar tech comes and puts it on the mic stand for him. You’re welcome your majesty! Here’s where the fun starts happening: halfway into, ironically enough “Good Thing,” Barrett smashes his guitar into pieces along with the monitor in front of him. Personally I thought this got old when the Who did it, and I feel it is kind of throwing my hard earned money that I paid for your records and this concert back in my face, however this is rock and roll so I let it slide as him trying to be cool. Oh no folks, he is ANGRY. The song finishes and he kicks over his mic stand and then breaks his microphone by smashing it into the stage, then he kicks over a set of keyboards placed on the side of the stage. I officially realize this is not part of the show when he immediately storms off the stage without saying a word, straight through the door with the exit sign looming overhead. The band is shocked and simply says thank you and goodnight and walks off-stage … Perhaps from my angle I was the only one that viewed Barret leaving the venue, because the crowd begins to chant for an encore. They believed this was part of the show, until Scott steps up to the mic and apologizes for Aaron Barret’s antics, he tells us something must be wrong and they would continue if they were able to find Barret and if they had new equipment to play on because theirs is broken. Tough spot this guy is in, and the band is obviously embarrassed of their singer. They felt horrible and they admirably said thank you for coming and apologized for Barret’s being an asshole and having to cut the set short. It sure was. It was timed at under 45 minutes on my watch. I don’t know what was worse, watching Barret through a drunken/angered tantrum during “Good Thing” or watching a disheveled Scott Klopfenstein walking off stage after apologizing to a chant of “BEER, BEER, BEER!” in reference to their hit song, when in fact apparently beer was the root of their problem tonight. I would not be surprised if this was the beginning of the end of Reel Big Fish. Something needs to be done, or this band is doomed. I guess you could say I got my money’s worth, just not at all like I had expected.