The Aquabats took on long time rivals (friends) Reel Big Fish last night in a battle that was barely contained by the Ogden Theater’s walls. As I walked in the doors I heard the staff passing along the “sold out” message in front of a lengthy box office line of shivering third wave ska fans. Inside, the crowd was anxious. Dancing and singing along with opener and energetic Disneyland mainstays, Suburban Legends, the brave and youthful mega-fans were already packed in as close to the stage as possible.
There is no secret to why people have fun at a ska show, let alone an Aquabats/Reel Big Fish show. The upbeat music tears down inhibitions to dancing and singing. These two Orange County bands that assisted in popularizing the current incarnation of the music in the ‘90s are so much fun to see. Suburban Legends singer Vincent Walker was a little on the nose when he announced that this was the “feel good tour of the year.”
The Aquabats took the stage with expected over the top fanfare. Colorful videos cut from pop-culture and cartoony art sequences looked like they could easily transition into children’s television. Singer MC Bat Commander (whose secret identity is Christian Jacobs, co-creator of Yo Gabba Gabba!) wowed the crowd with signature silly vocals and wonderfully melodramatic banter. The band added late night talk show rim shots and swells to keep the flow of their set goofy and fun.
At a certain point, two evil scientists brought a monster on stage in order to stop the Aquabats show, naturally. They were soon trounced by the band and the show was able to go on to the delight of “the kids.” A cameo by Plex the magic robot was enjoyed by everyone. That may be because original fans of the band now have kids who watch the show, or perhaps the die hard remember that the Yo Gabba Gabba! characters originated from Aquabats concept art.
As was demonstrated multiple times during the show, it really helps to have a three syllable band name when it comes to chanting. Reel Big Fish came out to ridiculous amounts of cheering. They started their set with “Sell Out” and donned their mid ‘90s SoCal skate culture uniform: baggy shorts, goofy haircuts and/or hats, and Vans on their feet. They played every one of their songs you might have wanted to hear them play. About a third of their set was made up of covers that have come to be expected centerpieces of their show. Their charming “everything still sucks” stage presence and extremely fast pace filled what seemed like 90 minutes with a gargantuan set-list. They closed with “Take On Me” and “Beer.” My inner 15-year-old was the ultimate winner of this battle of the bands.
Marc Hobelman lives in Denver and is a new contributor to Reverb.