Less Than Jake - O2 City Hall, Newcastle 01.04.2022
It might be a cold night in Newcastle but Less Than Jake rolling into town means the heat is going to be turned up to full! To make sure of that they've brought along a cavalcade of legends and stars in the making to ensure that nobody walks away feeling short changed. First up, there's a name that's been on a lot of people's lips. Millie Manders and the Shutup have been talked about a lot over the past few months. People have been converted time and time again by seeing them in a live setting and walking away ready to spread the gospel. Tonight, they have a good amount of t-shirts scattered around the audience which must be reassuring to the band as they walk onstage. Bass player George looks in a little pain as she gets herself ready (she's later spotted with a crutch - I hope she's on the mend soon). Alex slips behind the drum kit while James straps on a low slung guitar, which is always a good sign in my book. Millie Manders herself bounces along like a kid in a candy shop. There's a grin across her face that's brighter than the headliner's lighting rig. It's clear that she's so happy to be there and is soaking up every minute. She owns the stage, striding or dancing across every inch of it. Not only do they have the energy, they've got the songs too. It's hook after Ska flavoured hook; new single "Not OK" is introduced and it's already a firm fan favourite. The sound is a little muddy which is common for opening acts in partially filled large venues, which is a real shame. Millie works hard, as do the rest of the band, with her vocals sitting above the mix. You just know that they're going to grow and hopefully headline their own bigger shows. By the end of their short set, Millie has stolen the hearts of several audience members. The band balances Punk and skS perfectly that warrants the attention they've been drawing to themselves. It's time to get behind them and help push these guys to a level they deserve. Speaking of deserving, The Toasters step up to the plate, ready to show why they've been around for over forty years now. Robert 'Bucket' Hingley has led the band since it's inception, an englishman relocated to NYC, where he was able to mix New Wave, Ska, Punk, Soul and RnB into a solid catalogue. For this trip here they're performing as a sextet, with keyboardist Chezz chopping at his instrument supplementing the sound. The band sound a lot more old school than the others on the bill, their take on Ska rooted in Dub and that Motown Stax brass sound. Hingley shows his British roots when introducing "Pirate Radio" which he dedicates to Radio Caroline. The songs are solid but, after Manders' high energy set, they seem to lack an urgency. That's not a bad thing though but it does feel like the band simmer more than boil. Their set still flies by and they're soon playing an acidic "Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down" to wrap things up nicely. Skinny Lister feel like they've been touring nonstop for a while now (the pandemic giving them some rare time off). Their raucous Folk Punk has seen them win over a lot of fans whenever they have been added in a support capacity and, no doubt, tonight will be one of those occasions too. Tonight see’s the band a little lighter than usual. Mule Brace, their second guitarist, is off with medical issues, while drummer Thom Mills is off welcoming a new baby to his family leaving the band in the capable drumming hands of Tom Hillson. Not that you’d notice a change in their dynamics at all. Dan Heptinstall (acoustic guitar) and Lorna Thomas share lead vocal duties between them, while Scott Milsom prowls the stage with his double bass (carrying it while playing at times – eat your heart out Steve Harris) and Max Thomas plays his mandolin and melodeon like a maniac. Imagine the Pogues had gone out drinking with the Dropkick Murphys in a pub owned by Ferocious Dog and I think you’ll get a slight idea of what they’re like. Lorna dances around the stage between her vocals while Dan fixes the audience with a stare as he sings to us. The chemistry between them weaves its way through the songs while the band charm us along the way. They are high energy and they draw us all in. What seems like an odd choice for a support slot makes perfect sense in the hall of the City Hall. People are nodding along and tapping their feet as Skinny Lister conduct the cacophony, cajoling smiles from everyone. If a rabble rousing “Trouble On Oxford Street” doesn’t get you twitching in time then you may need to get your pulse checked. The band can afford their mile wide grins as they leave the stage knowing that they’ve done their job admirably. "How have you not seen Less Than Jake live?” a friend of mine jokes. At one point it felt like they seemed to be playing Newcastle every few months or so. Their brand of Ska, Punk and Metal has always been a one I enjoyed, evoking memories of journeys in my friends car, their CD’s turned up LOUD. Live, they take the energy of the recordings and strap it to a five year old toddler high on sugar and e numbers. The backdrop is painted in bright colours as the band bounces onstage. Twin vocalists Chris DeMakes (also on guitar) and the dreadlocked Roger Lima (bass guitar) are the band ring leaders. They know exactly what we want to hear and they make sure we get what we came for. “Last One Out Of Liberty City” goes from 0 to 60 in a split second and while you’re still catching your breath they drop “Gainsville Rock City” (an ode to the band’s home time) with more impact than Will Smith at an awards ceremony. What should feel rough and ragged feels tight. Matt Yonker (formally of Teen Idols) holds down the beat that allows the band to do their thing. While Chris and Roger trade vocals, Buddy Schaub and Peter Wasilewski provide the brass (trombone and sax respectively), with Buddy quite happy to also dance around the stage, singing along to himself as he whirls around like he’s the only person invited to his own private party. Speaking of a private party, Mille Manders and her band soon appear on the balcony, singing along and dancing. Millie seems to be in her element, wining the award for the night’s biggest grin (and there were a lot of entries to chose from). They joined soon by The Toasters in what looks like the funnest place to be (other than the headliners onstage of course). Various audience members are asked to come and share the stage with the band, bringing their own energy and various “what the fuck?” looks on their faces. Each one is given their own introduction by the band, given beer and asked to dance while the band play on. And how could you not dance to Less Than Jake? Even with my aching back (don’t grow old kids!) I’d be tempted to get up there too. The band continue to rip through the set with some great sounding songs. Not only do they sound great but even their titles are great too; “The High Cost of Low Living”, “Fat Mike’s on Drugs”, “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts” and “The Science of Selling Yourself Short” dash by before you get chance to realise they’re there right in front of you. Nothing is too serious (again, see the song titles) and everything is just the right side of party for everyone. Toilet paper is fired from the stage, there’s a guy onstage in a skill mask wearing a boxing robe and gloves while dancing, and inflatable waving characters. Far too swiftly, we’re at the end of the main set and Millie is demanding more (so are we but I seriously believe that she is having the best time). We are given “My Very Own Flag” and “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads” as a thank you and goodbye before Bon Jovi is played across the PA. Less Than Jake and this tour are the fun that we’ve all missed in the past two years. While it may not stand up as the world’s greatest gig in the world ever, it is the gig that we need right now. Every body leaves with a smile, ringing ears and, possibly a few aches and pains in the morning. Less Than Jake are a reminder that there are good days and good times to be had, especially when we’re all together enjoying the music.
Less Than Jake - https://www.facebook.com/lessthanjake
Skinny Lister - https://www.facebook.com/skinnylister
The Toasters - https://www.facebook.com/TheToastersNYCSKA
Millie Manders and The Shutup - https://www.facebook.com/milliemandersmusic
Photos - G's Gig Shots
Review - Scott Hamilton