Direct Hit!/Ballyhoo!/Anti-Flag/Reel Big - Live in Denver (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Direct Hit! / Ballyhoo! / Anti-Flag / Reel Big

Live in Denver (2017)

live show

It was the first major snowstorm of the winter when the Anti-Flag and Reel Big Fish double headlining tour came through Denver for its very first stop. I thought for sure that the show was going to be cancelled considering how the roads were, and a lot of things were closed the next morning, but to my surprise the show went on in spite of the weather. I didn’t mind, since I live about a half mile from the venue, but I was surprised at how many others made the trek out. In a weird way, the snowstorm made the whole thing feel more cozy and intimate than it otherwise would have. We were definitely the only party happening in town on such a dreadful night.

The band I was most interested in seeing was up first, and that was Direct Hit! That should be no surprise to anyone who saw my Top 20 of 2016 list. Direct Hit! didn’t bring the extra musicians that would be necessary to recreate the big, lush sounds of their latest album, Wasted Mind, but instead played a more stripped down, rawer version of their songs. This probably would have worked really well had it not been for an absolutely atrocious sound mix that cranked up the vocals and cranked down the guitar. They were plagued with equipment malfunctions as well, and tried their best to play them off with self-deprecating humor. They tried their hardest, but it wasn’t the show I was hoping for with everything that went wrong. The song that worked best with all the problems they were having was the closing song, “We’re Fucked,” which was probably because it’s their harshest and most abrasive song.

Next up was Ballyhoo!,, because apparently they wanted to only book opening bands for this tour whose names are written with an exclamation point at the end. If they had just roped in Against Me! they could have had a complete set of three. Ballyhoo! was the only band on this tour that I wasn’t familiar with before the show, and I will not be checking out anymore of their stuff as a result of seeing them live. If Incubus was a ska band, they’d sound like Ballyhoo! Late Incubus, after they went mainstream and got boring. Everything about Ballyhoo! is overly polished for a ska/reggae band, making them sound like late 311 or the Dirty Heads. On top of that, they had some of the worst stage banter I’ve ever heard in a live concert. After announcing that one song was about being in a fucked up relationship but not being able to leave because the sex is so good, ten seconds later the lead singer shouted “Let me hear you, ladies, this song is about you!” Why anyone responded to that with anything other than hissing and booing is beyond me. Then came the shockingly inane moment of the lead singer shouting “This song is about making love. Do y’all like making love?” That’s about one step up from shouting “Hey, who likes good things?”

I don’t know who came up with the idea of putting Anti-Flag and Reel Big Fish together on a tour as co-headliners. They have almost nothing in common, aside from the fact that their debut albums came out one week apart from each other. That was pretty much the one common thread that united them for this tour, as each band was supposed to perform their first album from start to finish. Even their personalities strike me as clashing, with Anti-Flag being notoriously anal backstage, and Reel Big Fish striking me as more the laid-back party type.

Anti-Flag did not play Die for the Government (or Die for Your Government, depending on whether you’re reading the front or the side of the CD) in its entirety. I’m not a huge fan of Anti-Flag’s pre-Terror State material, so I had to follow along with the track listing on my phone to see if they were playing the whole album. They skipped “Police State in the USA,” “Punk by the Book” (which I actually really like), “No More Dead,” and “Confused Youth.” They certainly would have had plenty of time for these songs, but instead chose to leave themselves more time to play a selection of about a half-dozen newer songs at the end of their set. Much of the banter was about Trump, and I’m sure it repeated verbatim on every stop on the tour, but overall it was a satisfying set that blended old and new. This was the third time I had seen Anti-Flag play Denver within one year, and I can definitely report that, for all of their hatred of the military, there’s a certain military precision to how they recreate the exact same show every time. It may be a bit mechanical, but it’s still a lot of fun.

Then came Reel Big Fish. I have to say, it was a bit sad to see Aaron Barrett performing all of the songs off of the band’s debut album (I’m not counting Everything Sucks because it had such small distribution until Mojo re-released it in 2000) when he’s the only band member left who had anything to do with that album. I thought maybe for this tour he might have dug up at least one original member of the band to come on tour with him, but he did not. Personally, if I made something special like Turn the Radio Off with a bunch of my friends 20 years ago, I’d be really depressed to go on the road recreating it without said friends.

Reel Big Fish stuck some extra songs into the set before and after they performed the album, starting the whole thing off with “I Want Your Girlfriend to Be My Girlfriend, Too.” Barrett gave some of his normal self-deprecating banter throughout the show, including talking about how much he hated side B of the album. The thing about that particular joke was it drew my attention to something I hadn’t noticed before, which was that I don’t like side B of the album very much either, and it made that half of the performance a bit of a drag. While they did perform all of the songs off of Turn the Radio Off, they didn’t entirely do it in the right order. They skipped “Beer” and then, when they got to the end of the album, pretended that they had made a mistake (they didn’t pretend very hard) and played it then instead. While the ploy was pretty transparent, it was a good idea since “Beer” makes a much better closer to that part of the set than “Alternative, Baby” does. I actually had to look up what the last track on that album was just now because it’s that unremarkable.

Maybe I’m just a bit old and cynical that I can see through some of Anti-Flag and Reel Big Fish’s stage gimmicks, but overall, I think they did more good than bad. The second half of this tour is going to replace Direct Hit! with Pkew Pkew Pkew, and had that version of the tour come through Denver, I still would have braved the snow as their debut album was also on my Top 20 list. While I’m pretty sure that every date on this tour is going to be nearly identical to the show I saw, and feature very little that’s spontaneous, I would still recommend seeing the show.