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Less Than Jake - Birmingham O2 Academy / Manchester Academy 05.10.2016 / 10.10.2016

Less Than Jake are one of my favourite bands of all time. They helped me discover everything Ska-Punk I never knew I loved, and have produced consistently excellent music for the last 20 years. So when they announced they were touring, I instantly bought tickets. Added to that, I've become a big fan of Mariachi El Bronx and had a chance to see them again, and have heard great things about The Skints.

The rest of the tour was split, Kemuri were opening for four nights, and The Bennies for the other four. On top of this, I later found out that Fireball held a competition to let a local band open the whole night. My old band, AMFX, were chosen as the Birmingham opening act, and I got a pretty cool surprise when the guys insisted I came along as their guest and hung out with a AAA pass. So as a result, I got to experience the tour from pretty much both sides of the fence. Firstly as a backstage hang-out, drinking and briefly chatting with the bands, while watching side-stage for much of the night, and then as a paying customer, with a bunch of friends, watching from the front.

In Birmingham, AMFX opened as stated. I'm not going to try and come off as biased, but they played exceptionally, producing the best I've heard of them in years. Playing to a small crowd, who none-the-less stuck around, and nodded appreciatively, which at quarter past 6 is all you can really ask for. They did a cracking job.

Kemuri, from LA, are a bunch of Japanese lads playing Ska-Punk. They are fun, fast-paced and produce clever music, and worked hard to get the crowd really moving. My initial assumption was they reminded me of a Ska version of Hi-Standard. Great songs and a really good bunch of guys.

In Manchester, I skipped the first two bands. I'll apologise to both as I'm sure they were excellent (and I'm still in need of checking out Broken 3 Ways, the opening Manchester band) but the oppurtunity to have a few, cheaper pre-drinks was all important.

So from then on, it was The Skints, Mariachi El Bronx and Less Than Jake. I'll review really from the Manchester show as that's where I really got a good look at each band, touching on certain elements from Birmingham as and when.

The Skints are from London. A fact they reminded you of a bunch of times! What they play is an excellent progression of old style Reggae and Dub. The songs are clever and lyrically, from what I could hear they were great. All the musicians are very, very talented and put on a good show. However, the initial joy of hearing Dub music, soon wore thin. After around 20 minutes of hearing the same back-line Drums and Bass, the music started becoming dull. I was just hoping for a little more from them, maybe change up the style a little more. In Manchester, I think what also detracted from the night was that the Keyboard player had issues with the levels for much of the set and could barely be heard throughout. That was much different in Birmingham and I think added to a better sound.

Mariachi El Bronx are stunning. They play beautifully crafted music that makes you smile, makes you get goosebumps and gets you wanting to party. I've seen reviews saying that it was a band that didn't fit the bill, but I totally disagree, as did much of the crowd who were dancing away, and enjoying the atmosphere they create from the get go, and followed throughout. I need to see this band again and again, and I'll be looking for the next album to hear even more.

The main event of course was Less Than Jake. With a back catalogue that stretches so far back, it was awesome to hear the old classics, along with a few great surprises. Firstly, both sets I caught were different, playing around 3 or 4 different songs each night along with some other standards. That surprise was heightened more by the fact that many of those songs were from the earlier albums. What followed, as ever, was a great party time set, filled with singing, dancing, confetti, Beach Balls, a marriage proposal (Manchester) crowd members being force fed Fireball and everything that anyone has ever caught Less Than Jake can expect. I've seen Less Than Jake around 10 times now, and with the exception of one or two festival sets, have always produced, and I can say that even now, 20 years in, they are just as good as ever, and this was one of the best sets from them in years. Not focused on promoting new material, they were happy to go with the flow, play songs that everyone knew, and enjoy the night.

All in all, I love that Fireball could bring such a great tour to the UK for such an amazing price. I hope that it's repeated with similar bands, and doesn't fall into a trap of just touring bands that Screamo kids love. However, I will also admit after the Wednesday night, I'm never drinking Fireball again.... again.... again....... dammit, there's always another night I'll drink it.

Review - Oli Williams

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