With a stop in Long Island, NY, a promise of a plethora of older material and pretty solid openers in the Loved Ones and New Mexican Disaster Squad, I figured it would be worth finally seeing Less Than Jake in the club setting for the first time on their current Outcasts and Idiots Tour. This was following watching their stints on the gigantic stages of Warped Tour both this past summer and in 2003, so the intimacy would be refreshing if nothing else.
But first, I'd finally get to see New Mexican Disaster Squad live. Earlier this year my friend decided some ace Brooklyn pizza with me and his girlfriend would be worth strolling in late into a Knitting Factory basement show that included Crime in Stereo, NMDS, and Marathon's last show in New York City all prior to None More Black. I arrived during the end of Marathon's last song; the pizza was good, but not that good. Nearly 3 years ago they opened Fat's 2004 Tour, and with my driver commanding little experience making the drive to Boston from Providence, I missed them there.
However, arriving nice and timely to the cringeworthily named Crazy Donkey guaranteed us nice spots up front for the band's semi-melodic update on `80s hardcore punk. The band made more sense in this setting than you'd think -- their sound is hard and fast, but it's not *that* abrasive, with more thought put into some tempo changes and pure punk rock bases. They opened with the title track off their new album, Don't Believe, which contains some fairly ambitious songwriting considering the genre -- though there's one riff they use that sounds an awful lot like "Start Today." I glanced back several times during the set to actually see an impressive circle pit of kids, which came to be a sporadic activity during that timeframe. Other bones chewed on from the album included the stellar "The Piggy Bank's Gone, Nick!," "Tightrope," and "Coughing Up Blood" probably among a few others. The first 2 tracks off 2003's self-titled LP, "You're Incorrect" and "Vultures" were well-received by your reviewer too. I can't be certain if anything was played off 2002's Abrasive Repulsive Disorder.
Mid-set they delivered the unfortunate news that the Loved Ones would not be playing, striking me as a strange bit considering I'd seen a healthy looking Spider lingering in the parking lot before. Apparently frontman Dave Hause couldn't make a solo venture back to the venue due to a sold out train schedule. NMDS made up for their message of disappointment with a fairly impressive cover of "Minor Threat." If more than 2 people knew it, including myself, they hid it well.
This meant Catch 22 was directly next. These days it's rare when I'm found listening to ska-punk, but when I am chances are good 1998's Keasbey Nights is in the player. I actually think 2000's Alone in a Crowd is pretty decent, with the 2001 B-sides/rarities holdover Washed Up and Through the Ringer! a moderately enjoyable affair too. But I found myself sort of apathetic about the band after one listen of 2003's Dinosaur Sounds (a number that remains to this day), and their confusing new album, Permanent Revolution is a small step up but still mediocre at best. Obviously, I was a little skeptic, and this from someone well above the status of a casual fan of the band circa 2001/2002. It wasn't a terrible set, though -- I plain freaked with the execution of "9mm and a Three Piece Suit" and the crowd certainly gave the biggest response for "Keasbey Nights." Crowd reaction was terribly inconsistent, as well; it seemed the mix of fans new, old, and casual was rather even. The material played from the last 2 albums didn't bother me deeply ("The Spark (1902)" is a damn solid roots song), but certain songs it was pretty hard to get amped. They weren't entirely sloppy, as the criticism usually goes, but that may be due to my greater concerns with how many of their newer songs are simply bland. Really, not a bad set in all, and that's even with a mere 2 Keasbey Nights songs in a 13-song set list -- though the meh-worthy reggae song didn't really take things out in a most fantastic fashion.
Set list (ordered):
- A Minor Point (1922)
- Intro / Point the Blame
- Sincerely Yours
- The Decemberists' Song (1921)
- It Takes Some Time
- The Spark (1902)
- Wine Stained Lips
- Keasbey Nights
- title n/a
- Chin Up
- 9mm and a Three Piece Suit
- The Purge (1936)
- reggae song, title n/a
As previously mentioned, the band has brought a spinning "Wheel of Fortune" type device on tour with them, containing 16 sections marked with possible songs for the band to play. After launching into a solid 4-song opening, the band began the wheel spinning and managed to play a wide breadth of classics, which included "Sugar in Your Gas Tank," "Soundcheck," "Faction," "Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts," "9th at Pine," and "Dopeman" among many, many others. We were close to getting "Liquor Store" and "My Very Own Flag," but to no avail -- a minor disappointment.
The band played admirably tight, but I have to say, one of the horn player's backup vocals on 2 songs were absolutely awful. Both would've been way, way better without him. The horn players only looked awkward for several of the songs in which they had no real duties -- those songs being the ones off In with the Out Crowd, obviously.
Really, it's all about the entertainment too. They essentially forced one member of the audience, a short, nerdy high school junior with a freakishly large afro to sit on the stage with the band for the majority of the set, teasing him much of the way. The kid, Josh, often responded with a shy, embarrassed smile as expected.
While I abhor costume changes, the band did it subtly through the wearing of various wacky hats and such -- a Pope hat and a "rape--I mean hunter mask" among others. Silly, sure, but it was an aesthetic that fit them well.
It also seems the band has gotten to that type of "NOFX" status -- the long-time punks mentioned Losing Streak as their best album, and in all likelihood, they probably aren't joking about that belief.
With plenty of energy and excitedment, cannons erupting confetti atop the audience at various points (and toilet paper guns at the climaxing end), and a 4-song encore following a set that fulfilled basically many old-school fan's needs, Less Than Jake well surpassed my expectations. Even with the few iffy cuts from their new album the band essentially "had" to play, I enjoyed myself much more than expected and couldn't have asked for much more. Most any Less Than Jake fan should enjoy themselves on this tour.
Set list (ordered/accurate):
- All My Best Friends Are Metalheads
- Overrated (Everything Is)
- Ghosts of You and Me
- Automatic Wheel spun for majority of rest of set:
- Sugar in Your Gas Tank
- Great American Sharpshooter
- 9th at Pine
- Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts
- Nervous in the Alley
- P.S. Shock the World
- Plastic Cup Politics
- Scott Farcas Takes It on the Chin
- Al's War
- Last One Out of Liberty City Encore:
- The Rest of My Life
- Gainesville Rock City
- Just Like Frank [in response to loud crowd requests]
- The Science of Selling Yourself Short
- Pezcore: 1 (in the sense of "Johnny Quest" overlapping with LS)
- Losers, Kings, and Things We Don't Understand: 1
- Losing Streak: 6
- Hello Rockview: 6
- Borders & Boundaries: 2
- Anthem: 3
- In with the Out Crowd: 3