When I found out Ted Leo and the Holy Mess would be playing a show in my area the same night as Less Than Jake and Off with Their Heads, I originally opted for Ted Leo. I've only seen him twice, whereas I've caught Gainesville’s finest ska/punk hybrid countless times over the past decade. Mr. Leo had to cancel, so a buddy of mine, who I've seen LTJ with before, reminded me about the Less Than Jake show.
When we walked into Stroudsburg’s Sherman Theater at 7 P.M., we’d already missed opening band Patent Pending, and Off with Their Heads were already on stage. I immediately rushed past small girls wearing pastel T-shirts to scream back Ryan Young’s lyrics over the over-modulated speakers. Not even the ska riff they played as an intro to “Die Today” could get the crowd moving. They’ll never know what they missed out on, as closer “Clear the Air” packed an even larger punch than it did on In Desolation.
The Supervillians’ style of reggae-infused ska seemed to excite the crowd, but I wasn't feeling them. My buddy said they played a bunch of songs about drinking, food and pot. I spent their set with Off with Their Heads, drinking Jack & Cokes, sharing Brendan Kelly stories and observing how young the crowd was. I stand by my decision.
Five years to the day after seeing them play a Hello Rockview-heavy set in Lancaster, Pa, we didn't know what to expect from Less Than Jake. Since that show, I've seen them play mainly Anthem and In with the Out Crowd sets, with “My Own Flag” or “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sell Outs” thrown in for fans of their older material. The band walked on stage with the lights off, and we were instantly treated to the opening lines of “Shindo”. The band followed with “Sugar in Your Gastank” and fan favorite “Look What Happened”, silencing any doubts about the set.
The band brought up the young age of the crowd many times, bringing two 12-year-olds on stage to perform stage dives and serenading another kid with the Spongebob Squarepants theme song as a 10th birthday present. “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads” really got the crowd moving, regardless of the fact many of them weren't even in third grade when the song appeared on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. Roger and Chris even dedicated “How’s My Driving, Doug Hastings?” to anyone conceived in 1996.
When the crowd was given a choice between “Al’s War”, “Just Like Frank” and “Soundtrack of My Life”, the Hello Rockview closer was the unanimous decision. Roger pointed out the song choices were like putting a Special Olympian up against Carl Lewis. Other popular Less Than Jake stage bits included pulling random people out of the audience to make out during “Last One Out of Liberty City”, T-shirt tosses from Buddy and JR during “Overrated”, and confetti during set closer “Plastic Cup Politics”.
For the encore, Chris, JR and Buddy came out for a stripped-down version of “Rest of My Life”. The guitar/backup vocal/trombone solo combination made the song sound completely different from the album version. They closed with two more songs off Anthem, thanked the crowd and invited everyone out to the bar next door. We took them up on their offer. Over a Yuengling, Chris told me he doesn't mind the young crowd at the recent shows, they like playing around with the set lists and, most importantly, they’re still having fun. It showed that night, and I learned a valuable lesson: I should never doubt Less Than Jake again.
Sugar in Your Gas Tank
Look What Happened
Scott Farcus Takes it on the Chin
Automatic [complete with “Harry J Reynolds” audio intro]