Reel Big Fish/Suburban Legends/Random Hand - Cardiff University Solus
Cards on the table; I wasn't expecting a great deal from this evening. The prospect of three ska bands skanking past us in quick succession would surely be more Punxsutawney than punk rock. Foolish boy, these three bands are moving in very different planes and are on vastly differing trajectories.
First up are the genuine article. Random Hand mean business, there are no concessions to glamour or crowd pleasing japes with these guys. Hit the stage. Heads down. Spine crushing metal riffs interspersed with some tipsy trombone work are the order of the day and, kudos to the kids, they respond as a single heaving mass of limbs. The band wear their hearts on their sleeves and, more tellingly, their influences on their t-shirts. Voodoo Glow Skulls are a good benchmark. Serious hardcore which tips more than a subtle nod to Napalm Death and, whilst not really subscribing to their straight-edge ethos, Black Flag and Minutemen. The ska element of their show is certainly more than incedental, but it is undeniably more seamlessly blended in to their full on metal assault live than on record where the two genres sit as rather uncomfortable bedfellows. Once this band manage to transpose the power, energy and honesty of their live show into the studio then they will be a serious force to be reckoned with. The other question is whether they are willing to sacrifice some of that honesty for some concession to stage craft. They are up against some big hitters who can tantalise the kids with the shiny shiny.
Speaking of which...
Suburban Legends arrive on stage like the Backstreet Boys, boddypopping to some daft electro number before launching into hook laden pop songs which send the crowd into genuine, spontaneous uproar. In terms of the music and the attitude, well we could be watching any of the great teen rock bands from Poison to McFly - the haircuts may change but the song remains the same. These are dreary times and bands like Suburban Legends exist to kick your tedious life into touch for a couple of fun packed hours. There's no resisting their charms, even for an old sod like me so if you are 15 years old then these are going to be your fave band for at least a week or two. Young, sexy, funny and American, I swear I saw some girls trying to buy nylons and packets of Camels out of the back of their tour bus. The highlight of their set tonight sees them drag a kid out of the crowd (John) who is invited to dance onstage, only to fall straight on his arse; although he redeems himself by dry humping the speaker stack and is mobbed by screaming girls when he leaves the stage. The spirit of rock n roll is safe in the hands of these dumb young boys and, when you see the reaction they create by throwing in a song from the Lion King, you can see really Suburban Legends trumping them all and going global.
The future may not prove to be so kind to Reel Big Fish however. Sure they get a huge reception, but they really look like a band coasting on their past glories. They press all the right buttons and deliver a greatest hits set which leaves everyone grinning and yet they ultimately don't convince. To be blunt, Reel Big Fish are verging on becoming a tribute band to themselves, and maybe that's a niche they can make a living from now they are free from the pressures of a record label. Don't get the wrong idea, the reaction they receive is little short of rapturous but it seems to be driven largely from nostalgia, with these 20 something students looking wistfully back to their days as awkward 14 year old skate punks. Reel Big Fish are the past. Tonight we saw two polarised visions of the future, the hardcore, protestant work ethic of Random Hand will take on the glitzy, showbiz glamour of Suburban Legends. Place your bets.