Reel Big Fish Tears Up Higher Ground

It wasn’t the ‘90s, but it sure felt like it when Reel Big Fish skanked up Burlington’s Higher Ground. It’s been 25 years since the band got its start, and they’re definitely making the most of this significant anniversary.

The age range in the Higher Ground Ballroom on Feb. 5 was surprising. My friend and I, who saw Reel Big Fish together in high school in the ‘90s, expected everyone there to be our age or older, but it seems the band is still drawing younger audiences as plenty of the kids in attendance seemed to be in their 20s or younger.

The show began with a set by a California band called the Maxies. Band members all wore creepy masks as they said purposely offensive things, made fun of the headliner and played a song about how they were better than your favorite band. They also did a really touching rendition of the All-4-One classic “I Swear,” complete with the lead singer reaching out a hand to the audience. It was entertaining, but a little too heavy on shtick and light on talent.

Next up was Suburban Legends. The band out of California’s Orange County got the show going in the right direction with some peppy ska. The lead singer, who has a seriously impressive mustache, oozed energy, and the rest of the band wasn’t exactly sitting around. They jumped around onstage, and they carried out a serious amount of choreographed moves — little things like walking left then walking right at the same time, but it was still a lot to do while also playing instruments and singing and all that those things entail.

Sadly, this band, which has a complicated background, announced in December 2015 that the 40-day tour with Reel Big Fish would likely be their last tour, but they left things open to the possibility of touring again after a break.

But they definitely had fun that night in Burlington. In addition to fun originals, Suburban Legend played a wide variety of hilarious covers like “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and songs from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. They recently released an EP full of covers from animated movies, but their most recent album is called Forever in the Friend Zone, and they played a few tunes from that record as well. All in all, the set was the perfect way to get pumped up for Reel Big Fish.

And finally, the ska legends took the stage. Reel Big Fish launched right in with one of their hits, “Everything Sucks,” with a vengeance not always seen by bands who have been touring for 25 years.

Reel Big Fish, from Huntington Beach, California, is currently made up of Aaron Barrett on vocals and guitar, Billy Kottage on trombone, John Christianson on trumpet, Ed Smokey Beach on drums, Derek Gibbs on bass, and Matt Appleton on saxophone and vocal harmonies. Barrett is the only member of the band who remains from the founding lineup, which started as a Led Zeppelin cover band. They grew to success in the ‘90s and early 2000s, but since then they have become more of a band with a cult following, according to their wikipedia page.

The current band lineup is great — each musician has tons of character and they’re really entertaining to watch.

The band seems keenly aware of what fuels their popularity, playing plenty of songs from the albums that made them famous, especially Turn the Radio Off. The setlist bounced around between the band’s eight albums, but it started and ended with Turn the Radio Off hits. Toward the end of the show, they said they were going to play their big hit from the ’90s, and they launched into Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for a few moments. Then they went through a few other ’90s hits, teasing the crowd, including Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy” and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones‘ “Knock on Wood.” Then finally, they played the song everyone had been waiting for, “Sell Out.”

The encore consisted of a newer song, “Everyone Else is an Asshole,” before dipping back into TTRO with “Beer.” Then to end the show, they played a-ha’s “Take On Me,” which got Reel Big Fish 15 minutes of fame when they played their rendition of it in the movie BASEketball.

Overall the show was wholly satisfying. There was plenty of nostalgia but also had a good amount of newer material, and the band’s electric energy kept the crowd going all night. It’s impossible to stand still when Reel Big Fish is throwing it down on stage.

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