Fishlock Fridays #6 – Less (fun) Than Small Venues

Last Friday I was lucky enough to represent Seeing Your Scene to go see one of my favourite bands from my teens (and most likely one of your favourites too), ska-punk legends Less Than Jake.

Less Than Jake played a great fun set filled of old songs, a few newbies, many laughs and much bouncing around; they are a great live band who even after these many years touring are still exciting to see live. The show as a whole however was pretty rubbish, reminding me why I rarely pay for expensive tickets to get into big venues when you can go throw something more affordable in a bucket at a DIY show.

The show was at a venue with a complete lack of personality – o2 Academy Bristol – a venue much like any other with “o2” in the name, a bland venue painted all black with overpriced pints at an unimaginative bar that probably isn’t worth waiting to get to. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of other choice on this Less Than Jake tour, with all dates aside from London and Nottingham being at an o2 Academy.

One of the worst things about these venues is their insistence on having rubbish club nights on Friday and Saturday nights, leading to early curfew on gigs so they can prepare for these. This meant this evening’s show finished at 10pm, ridiculously early for a Friday night in Bristol. For some odd reason it was seen as a good idea for Less Than Jake to do a co-headline tour with Yellowcard, and with the two bands doing headline sized sets, it meant Less Than Jake going on at the very early time of 7.10pm.

Rushing out of my house at an earlier time than I have before on a Friday evening, I missed the first band, Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! who played at the very early time of 6.15. After checking the band out on YouTube I don’t think I personally would have found them enjoyable to watch, but at the same time I can’t help but feel sorry for a band having to play that early – most people would barely have been out of work, let alone found time to grab food and head to a gig. I hope they didn’t play to a completely empty room.

I got to the venue just in time to throw my coat into the cloakroom to go run into the crowd for Less Than Jake, only missing the first song (just my luck it was one of my favourites, “Look What Happened”). It took the crowd a while to get into it – thoroughly un-warmed up and barely any booze in the system it’s no surprise – but once the band started throwing out tracks from 1996, the slightly older crowd, clearly there based on nostalgia, started to all act like they were in their teens again. It would have been great to have had a bit of ska before to warm everyone up and have Less Than Jake on a bit later and the atmosphere would have excelled much faster.

The set was entertaining, with new songs not forgetting the band’s great ska spirit and thus keeping the crowd active. Some of their more corny and ska-lacking material even held up, such as “Overrated (Everything Is)”, keeping the crowd bouncing and singing-along. Ready for great stage banter and laughs as always the band played their cover of the Pac-Man cereal theme song twice in a row, before reprising it once again to end their set. Highlights of the set were  certainly however older tracks such as “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts” and “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads”.

Once Less Than Jake were over I felt a weird sense in the night, it was only 8.30pm and I had already seen Less Than Jake. Finishing the night were Yellowcard, maybe I just don’t understand their appeal but what I witnessed was one of the most boring live sets I’ve ever seen, forcing myself to watch at least 3 songs I decided to head to the door and grab some chips and a pint elsewhere before heading home not long after the venue’s ridiculous curfew of 10pm.

I’m sure shows at an o2 Academy are well paid, and with a fanbase such as Less Than Jake’s who will happily fork out for tickets once a year to see them live, the band can play wherever,but I can’t feel that possibly more interesting and exciting shows could happen if they put in the effort to get booked at more exciting venues with more exciting lineups. I might have delved far too deep into the great underground scene that mainstream gigs are ruined for me but I don’t feel like it has to be this way. On Reel Big Fish’s last UK tour they showed they weren’t scared to play some smaller more interesting independent venues, including The Boilerroom in Guildford where I saw them. There’s no reason Less Than Jake can’t follow this method, imagine how good a show it could have been if they played The Fleece or Thekla in Bristol instead, where bands from the UK ska scene would get the opportunity to survive better under a support slot of a band that size, and just how crazier the crowd could get in one of these smaller venues.  No one really wins from an early-finish £20 co-headline show at an o2 Academy, the smaller bands aren’t supported and the show lacks anything special and everyone has paid more than they would have seeing them somewhere else, for example, at an independent venue that could really do with a boost from getting big names such as Less Than Jake to play.


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Chris Fishlock

Chris Fishlock

Punk rock enabler at Fishlock Promotions & Seeing Your Scene sub-editor.

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