Reel Big Fish Turns the Radio Back On at the Ritz Ybor
During the late ’90s, when the third wave of ska was at its peak, I was a kid already exposed to the skankin’ fever while going through high school in Puerto Rico. For us growing up in the tiny island, ska had already become very popular in the early ’90s, thanks to bands such as Skapulario, Los Pies Negros and many others. It wouldn’t be until a few years later that we would then become exposed to the American ska bands. As the music videos for Rancid’s “Time Bomb,” Goldfinger’s “Here in Your Bedroom” and later “The Impression That I Get” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones became regulars on the MTV rotation, ska-punk quickly became my preferred genre of music.
Sometime in 1997, a friend handed me a VHS tape and promised I would love what was on it. On that tape, there was a recording of an MTV special called “SKAturday.” The show (which I believe only aired once) was a set of music videos from many ska and ska-punk bands, including Madness, The Specials, Fishbone, The Suicide Machines, and many more. The music video that stood out the most from that VHS tape was for a song called “Sell Out” by a very colorful new band called Reel Big Fish. After watching this video non-stop for a few days, I made my way to the local Sam Goody to pick up a copy of the album Turn the Radio Off (1996) by Reel Big Fish.
Fast-forward to 2017, and although I had already seen Reel Big Fish live four times, when the band announced that they would tour in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Turn the Radio Off and play the album in its entirety, I was 100% in. I just had to wait for my chance, which came on January 23rd at the Ritz Ybor, in Tampa, FL.
Before Reel Big Fish took the stage, the crowd was treated to great performances by the energetic Direct Hit!, the catchy and groovy Ballyhoo!, and the legendary punk rockers Anti Flag, who are co-headlining the tour also in celebration of the 20th anniversary of their debut album, Die for the Government (1996).
Reel Big Fish took the stage right around 10 pm and began the show with “I Want Your Girlfriend to Be My Girlfriend Too” from Why Do They Rock So Hard (1998). After three songs, and with the crowd already fully engaged in the show, they jumped into the opening track of Turn the Radio Off and the song that drove me to buy their album 20 years ago, “Sell Out.” They continued to play the entire album with the same captivating energy I first saw when I watched that video come across my CRT TV back in 1997.
After playing the last track of the album, “Alternative Baby,” Aaron Barrett (lead singer/guitar) asked the crowd if they had forgotten a song. The crowd ecstatically responded by yelling “Beer,” and the band began to play “The Impression That I Get” from Mighty Mighty Bosstones, a song that I find very fitting for this show, since it was probably the biggest ska song of 1997. Immediately after, they pleased the crowd by playing “Beer” and later mixed it with “Self Esteem” by The Offspring before leaving the stage.
After a quick break, the band returned to once again claim that they had forgotten a song and then played the album’s bonus track, “I’m Cool.” The encore continued with “Everyone Else is an Asshole” from Candy Coated Fury (2012), “Where Have You Been” from Cheer Up (2002), and concluded with their fan-favorite cover of A-ha’s “Take On Me”.
From the outfits to their album artwork (kids nowadays will never know) to their catchy melodies, everything around Reel Big Fish always makes for a colorful aesthetic. However, the one thing that keeps me coming back to watch them live is the energy that they portray on stage. These guys are superb musicians that continue to give their all, even 20 years after their genre was considered relevant by networks such as MTV. If you are a fan of this album, you owe it to yourself to catch this tour.
The Reel Big Fish/Anti Flag tour continues until 15 February.