Reel Big Fish in Kansas City

The odds of someone using words like “low-energy,” “boring” or “unenthusiastic” when describing a Reel Big Fish concert seem about as likely Meryl Streep never getting an Oscar nomination again. After years of performing it would make sense for their routine to feel a bit lackluster or stale, but Monday night at the Beaumont Club in Kansas City was anything but. Celebrating their 20th anniversary on this current tour, they were as kinetic, entertaining, and upbeat as ever.

A Reel Big Fish show is genuinely a group experience. They don’t expect you to solely sing along to the chorus to their biggest hit, prompting words to the audience to guarantee that this sing along not fail. Reel Big Fish, instead, demands participation from introduction to conclusion. As the band instructed the audience to jump, wave their hands, and sing along within the opening songs, one could feel the energy rising as each note was played. Within four songs, the crowd had transitioned from observational to frantic. The closest imagery I can conjure would be that of a riot, but this was by far the most joyous riot I’ve ever witnessed.

Many of their older, more established songs were the focal point of the evening, with  people singing the choruses to “Beer,” “Trendy” and “She Has a Girlfriend Now,”. Each was received with a near frenzy of delight. One of the sneakily brilliant things about Reel Big Fish is their comical and lyrical simplicity. These are songs that can be practically memorized on a first listen. Take the lyrics of a song like “Your Guts (I Hate ‘Em)”. The song opens, “I wrote this song about you / I wrote this song about you / just to let you know / that I hate your guts / I think you suck”. Now, while the philosophical content in this piece might be lacking, the singability is high and within thirty seconds most of the crowd could participate by shouting the words back towards the stage and everyone knows that singing along is just plain fun. Feeding off of one another, the more amused the crowd became the more hyper the band appeared to get.

And hyper the band was. Never taking a moment to catch their breath, every measure of song was filled with energy. The six-piece third wave ska band currently consists of the standard of guitar, bass and drums set up, but would never feel complete without its trio of horns. The brightness of this mini-horn section’s sound only accentuates the youthful charm of the band. While Aaron Barrett (vocals and guitar) is the only original member left in the band, he is as energetic as ever. Not to be outdone, every circle he runs in is met by a jump from the trombonist (Dan Regan) or a kick from trumpeter (John Christianson). The only one that didn’t cross the stage at some point in the show was the humble Ryland Steen (drummer), who was even berated about it by Aaron about half-way through the show (lovingly of course).

Having seen the band before, I will admit that the repetitiveness of their shtick was apparent, but it was not unwanted. After their initial performance of “S.R.” they proceeded to replay the tune as they notoriously do with various genres. Each version had a different descriptor shouted, such as “square dance” “booty shake” and “circle pit”. This instructed the audience the necessary moves to be carried out as the songs were altered accordingly. While I’ve seen this done by them before, it didn’t feel redundant, but instead felt like watching a favorite re-run on TV. I’d seen it before, but I would have never changed the channel. I didn’t, however, expect to see a conga line formed in the middle of the Beaumont Club, so new tricks don’t seem lacking. They are a happy blend of old and new.

Prior to the night’s inception, I foresaw a crowd filled with aging hipsters, reliving experiences of their youth, possibly toting their kids along to plant seeds about what “makes music great”. And while I always secretly love those guys, the ones that didn’t let age stifle their love of music, instead I found a pit of early- and under-twenty something’s. Many, of which, were even sporting black “X’s” stifling their chances for drunkenness. At first, I found this more than odd, but after being reminded of the juvenile lyrics and the manic quality to their stage performance, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. Certainly, some of the crowd was there for other reasons than Reel Big Fish, but I saw plenty of RBF band shirts that told me otherwise. The music resonates with a naïveté that screams adolescents and the air of youthfulness was apparent. This isn’t to say that there were no adults in the crowd, but they were there with a childlike spirit and happy to be reminded that sometimes a few bad words and bouncy song are all you need to good time.

As for the first-times, a few of the inside jokes may have been lost, but the enjoyment was not. By the end of the show, everyone was dripping in sweat from the hour and a half of solid dancing, bouncing, running, jumping and even skanking that had occurred and no one seemed ready for Reel Big Fish to walk off of the stage. While it can be assumed that many listening paid to see bands surrounding Reel Big Fish, by their final songs more that a few life long fans had obviously been made. A few probably even learned what “skanking” even was.

Setlist: Trendy / Join the Club / The Kids Don’t Like It / Ban the Tube Top / Down in Flames / Good Thing / You’re Guts (I Hate ‘Em) / The Long Run (The Eagles cover) / She Has a Girlfriend Now / Say / The Set Up (You Need This) / Why Do All Girls Think They’re Fat / Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison cover) / Instrumental /  Where Have You Been? / S.R. / Another F.U. Song / Sell Out / Beer / Take On Me (a-ha cover)

By Erin Tuttle

Photos By Rebecca Armstrong

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