Ska: fun not dead

Veteran ska-punkers Less Than Jake’s wild show impressed a near-capacity First Avenue crowd.

Jay Boller


Less Than Jake

When: Thursday, July 3
Where: First Avenue

college newspapers serve as a credibility soapbox, of sorts. Music critics the country over pen sprawling slobber-sessions on hyped, blogged-about, tight-pant-wearing bands who are mere months old. A lot of times these bands are good. But just as often they have no lasting value and are downright boring. But by writing about them, the author has validated their own tastes by endorsing something too hip for you, the reader, to even have previous knowledge of.

It’s realities such as these that made Less Than Jake’s show at First Avenue last Thursday so refreshing. Remember Less Than Jake? If you grew up in the ’90s, odds are you do. By most standards, Less Than Jake is not a “good” band. They’ve played the same brand of energy-packed ska-punk for going on two decades. Half the band is fat and the other half has receding hairlines. Anyone looking to score indie scene points in reading this can turn the page now. But Less Than Jake have one thing going for them that “it” indie bands rarely have: Their shows are undeniably fun. Hell, they’re a downright blast.

Rather than a mopey contest to see who can sway the most without outwardly dancing, LTJ’s shows take the form of a raucous mosh pit surrounded by gaggles of “skanking” – a dance resembling a person on a NordicTrack machine – with people sweating up a storm.

Despite being purveyors of one of the least complicated genres of music to play, Less Than Jake excel on stage due to their childlike enthusiasm and the fact they hop around like Pixy Stix-fueled 10-year-olds. The syncopated ska rhythm guitars chirp while the buzzing punk choruses drive. The bass dancingly bounces, drums pound on overdrive and the horns – those glorious horns – bark triumphant.

Sophomoric theatrics such as hauling a kid who lost his wallet on stage and urging the masses to chant “a–hole!” at him prove entertaining as well. In fact, if ska show theatrics are your bag, co-headliner Goldfinger had an audience member eat a Twinkie out of their drummer’s bare butt, parted the crowd like the Red Sea before making them collide and held an onstage dance party. Sound more fun than putting your hands in your pockets and staring at Sigur Ros ? It is.

The band proved to be not only as fun as they are on stage as they are in person, but also grounded and kind. Oh, and when Buddy, the trombonist, took A&E back to the band’s tour bus, his first sentence was, “When I get to the back of the bus, you guys better have your pants off.” Layered and deep? No. Boring? Far from it.

Ska and pop-punk are traditionally a young man’s genre. How have your audiences changed over the years? Do the crowds still consist of mainly 15-year-olds or has the audience aged with you guys?

Well, one thing that’s changed is the boys’ pants have gotten a hell of a lot tighter. Unfortunately, can’t say the same thing for the girls.

But yeah, it’s cool these days because you see a lot of guys our age who knew about us in 1996 coming to the shows with their kids who are fans now. We’re a band of generations.

You guys are happy being off Warner Bros. Records?

Oh yes. It’s so nice to not have people making decisions for you. They wanted to make everything glossy and “radio- ready” and we were on board. But they would present us with business models of how to make records and stuff like that. We don’t have any beef with Warner Bros., but we wanted to leave and they didn’t want us back.

Do you guys still party much?

We are one of the steadiest bands with substances. We party as much now as we did 10, 15 years ago.

Are you familiar with Minneapolis legends The Replacements? They set the bar pretty high in terms of partying. Doing coke, sniffing glue, pretty much always drunk Ö

See, we never left the intermediary drug circuit (weed and alcohol), so that’s what’s contributed to our partying longevity.

What’s the future for Less Than Jake?

To tour.

Looking back, what’s your favorite Less Than Jake record?

“GNV FLA” (Their newest, released on their own Sleep It Off Records last week ). The sound is way better than on our last record. We sort of went back to some things we were doing on “Losing Streak” and “Hello Rockview,” partly because we did a series of shows where we played those albums in entirety. Relearning them definitely affected the songwriting for the new record.

That’s a safe answer. You always hear bands say their most current record is their favorite.

It really is. Last record, I wouldn’t have told you that. It’s so nice to be free from labels and all that external stuff. For the last couple records, there were definitely too many cooks in the kitchen. This record really feels like everything coming full circle for the band .