Saturday night at the Joy Theater was a flashback to the 90’s with double-header show between Reel Big Fish and Anti Flag. Both bands were celebrating the twentieth anniversary of an album release. Anti Flag’s debut album Die for the Government turned two decades old this year, as well as Reel Big Fish’s second and most popular album Turn the Radio Off. They were each prominent in the 1990’s during the punk/ska movement and brought their cult fans to stuff the venue. Pkew Pkew Pkew and Ballyhoo! joined them on the tour.
Anti Flag is a punk band formed in 1992 (however they had an initial run from 1988 to 1989) by lead singer/guitarist Justin Sane and drummer Pat Thetic. They are originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Anti Flag is famous for their political and social activism, theming songs and videos to dysfunctional government or unfair social standards, and taking part in political action groups such as Greenpeace. They even hosted their own festival called “ANTIFest,” at which volunteers from Amnesty International, PETA, and Emmaus gave information and held educational discussions. Since Die for the Government (1996), they have been with six different record labels including the major label RCA, for which they received “sellout” flack, however their ninth and most recent album, American Spring (2015), was released on Spinefarm Records.
Reel Big Fish is a ska band also founded in 1992 by frontman/guitarist/keyboard player Aaron Barrett, bassist Matt Wong and drummer Andrew Gonzales in Huntington Beach, California. The band had mainstream success in the late 1990’s and released four albums with Mojo and Jive Records, however in 2006, following the decline of the ska revival, RBF was dropped by Jive and have released their last three albums independently. Their releases since being dropped have been mostly live recordings, re-recordings, and cover songs, although their last album, Candy Coated Fury (2012), was all new material. Apart from a holiday-themed EP in 2014, they have not released any music since. Aaron Barrett is also the only remaining founding member in the band, as almost all of the original members left Reel Big Fish to spend more time with their families.
The first dose of power chords came from Pkew Pkew Pkew of Canada. They opened the night with a solid set reminiscent of American pop/punk groups like Jimmy Eat World and Blink-182. Ballyhoo! followed with a similar style and an added note of reggae. Both groups brought the awesome energy necessary to match that of Anti Flag and Reel Big Fish.
Anti Flag dropped a giant, upside-down American flag behind them as they literally skipped out onto the stage. For a punk rock group, they were surprisingly touchy-feely. From the moment they came out to the moment they finished, the members preached unity and equality, while simultaneously promoting a blood cancer awareness group. However, this was still accompanied by the bashing of current political events and an endless stream of vulgarity directed at police and the government. They played tracks from Die for the Government such as the title track and “Fuck Police Brutality,” but also included popular tracks like “The Press Corpse” in the setlist. Each member thrashed around onstage and wowed the audience with finesse. During the final song, bassist Chris#2 and drummer Pat Thetic brought their instruments into the crowd, with the help of some stage hands, and played in the middle of the floor while fans stood around them, hands in the air and belting lyrics.
The horn section of Reel Big Fish meandered out, noodling a version of “Olé, Olé, Olé,” when Aaron Barrett finally appeared and joined them in a jam. After a couple warm-up tunes, Barrett announced that it was time to start the show and that they would play through the entire album Turn the Radio Off. Fans blissfully sang their favorite songs and joined Barrett in a group skank effort for the remainder of the evening. Reel Big Fish kept the positive atmosphere going with a whimsical and comedic performance. Despite the humorous persona, Aaron Barrett is actually a really talented guitar player. His ability to chug out skanking chord progressions while twirling and whirling around was just as impressive as his ability to flawlessly execute solos. After the final track, “Alternative Baby,” RBF “realized” that they had left out a song. They pranked the audience by playing 45 seconds of “The Impression That I Get” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones before going into “Beer,” during which Barrett played the entire guitar solo behind his head. The crowd demanded one more song, so Reel Big Fish played four: “Cool Ending” (hidden track from Turn the Radio Off), “Everyone Else is an Asshole,” “Where Have You Been,” and their famous cover of “Take On Me” by A-Ha.