Last Night: Reel Big Fish and The English Beat at Gilley's

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Reel Big Fish, The English Beat
July 26, 2009

Better than: Going to bed early out of loyalty to a 9 to 5 job you don't like anyway.

"Hey, after the show, you wanna turn this energy around and ride the rollercoaster on the ceiling?" says Reel Big Fish frontman Aaron Barrett, referring to the circular, Texas star-shaped lighting rig hovering above the Gilley's dance floor.

The show had been moved from the Palladium to the smaller Gilley's honkytonk next door, but at roughly 700 strong on a stormy Sunday night, there's little call for alarm of a failed event--especially when you grade the night on crowd enthusiasm.

Adding to the entertainment factor is the blatant effort to rope off and cover the mechanical bull in the back of the room, hence it fall victim to the same kind of stage-ribbing. Barrett's quips continue throughout the night, and he ends nearly every song with a different lyrical application to the "shave and a haircut" melody. Whether you roll your eyes, or take the jokes in, you have to hand it to the band for lightening the mood of a room...

Barrett, the only remaining member of RBF's original lineup, is witty, comical, silly at times, and dressed colorfully. Not to be outdone by his horn section (which resembles a collection of fashion rejects from the Village People and Devo), he's dressed in a white button-up, red skinny tie, and a black military jacket adorned with pins and patches on the sleeve and chest. His hair is slicked back in a '50s pompadour, and his beady, black slits-for-eyes seem to incriminate that his mischievous wheels are constantly a-spin.

The band cooks at a ratty, urgent tempo, with stabbing horns and the comedic lyrical undercurrent in their music that seems to seriously lower the odds of any fights breaking out on the floor. There's just too much to be not-serious about. The crowd, mostly 18- to 20-somethings with an above-average sense of cerebral college humor about them, brought the band to the stage tonight with bold chants and cheers. From the start of the first song, a comical Ska-Ha cover of "Take on Me", the crowd jumps, pulsates, and claps along with impressive syncopation.

Reel Big Fish, around close to 20 years, saw the height of its success in 1997 with a single called "Sell Out," ironically enough, from an LP called Turn Off Your Radio. The band's most recent release, last January's Fame, Fortune, and Fornication, is a collection of ska-spiked covers, and there's no shortage of those in the set tonight, including "Brown Eyed Girl", and even Poison's contrived stomach-turner "Nothin' But a Good Time", which actually seems to sound better with a horn section, go figure.

Earlier, The English Beat stepped up to celebrate 30 years since its inception, and performed a lively, if by-the-numbers, set from not only its own history pages, but also from General Public, frontman Dave Wakeling's 1983 outfit that followed The English Beat's first breakup. For this set, most of Reel Big Fish's spirited youth audience mostly sat on the floor in the back, gathering strength and fiddling with their iPhones. The quirkiest factor of the Beats' set? Easily longtime master of ceremony Ranking Roger's constant call-to-skank-arms to the crowd, none of which seemed young enough to take the motivation seriously.

"I know that some of you are standing, and some of you are sitting on the floor, but who's ready to do some skaaaankiiiing?" he cried.

The aging punks, and long-since-domesticated former wavers, who now sport less hair and much more of a suburban fashion sense, were hardly up for for anything more than hearty rounds of applause. Still, Roger kept at it, and eventually a half-hearted pit of sorts swarmed for a fleeting moment. Most of the band's set was dedicated to more sub-energy, easy-going reggae selections, and that, in all fairness, could have had as much to do with the so-so response as anything.

Frontman Dave Wakeling, sporting a Polo shirt of all things (hey, it was easily his audience's No. 1 choice, but at least his was black) , was cheerful, genuinely grateful, and physically fit far beyond the picture one would paint for a man who's been playing these songs for three decades. With a nest-stirrer like Ranking Roger next to him, he was left to stick to pretty impeccable singing, and the occasional anecdote. "I've always thought of my initials as DFW!" he told everyone, and oddly segued into a story about recently spending all his money to heal his ailing horse, Elvis.

In other words, there was no shortage of amusing moments, and no dull ones at all.

Critics Notebook
Personal Bias:
Not a life-changing evening of music, but the light-heartedness of the show felt like it had good timing, with, you know, all the crap going on these days.

Random Note: The English Beat detoured into Pearl Jam's "Better Man" in the middle of its hit "Sooner or Later".

By the way: RBF's sound engineer couldn't have been a nicer guy about accommodating
DC9 with a set list, and a handshake. Not something you see from road crews every day.

Reel Big Fish's set list:

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