The last time MonkHammer saw Reel Big Fish was at Brixton Academy in 2004 when the average age of the crowd could be counted on three hands and 70% of them were dressed like a second rate Billy Joel Armstrong, so it is initially surprising to see a much older, regularly dressed demographic at the Forum in 2017. Obviously those fans from 2004 are 13 years older now, but it definitely feels as if Anti-Flag’s meatier, more mature sound has also upped the ante, and there are noticeably more wood glue and bovver boot punks in effect than last time round. Following a decent warm-up from Mad Caddies that sets the mood but few fires, Anti-Flag make a low key entrance before launching into a bouncy rendition of ‘The Press Corpse’ that bleeds inelegantly into grunting oldie ‘Fuck Police Brutality’, setting the mood for a show that flips between pop punk frivolity and aggro punk rallying with jarring regularity. The crowd seem slow to warm up, but momentum builds gradually with guitarist/singer Justin Sane getting more animated as the night progresses, until a speedy rendition of ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ that is far better than it has any right to be goes off like a firecracker in a teapot, kicking down the doors for a double punch finale of ‘Die for the Government’ and ‘Brandenburg Gate’. Although the set leans heavily on the harsher vocals of Chris #2, something that doesn’t necessarily work to their favour considering Sane’s anthemic pipes, and the performance is just that little too slick, clichéd and earnest to give it any real edge, by the time the confetti has settled and the drums have been hauled back out of the moshpit, the crowd are hungry for more and the support band leaves the stage feeling like headliners.
Reel Big Fish on the other hand take absolutely no time getting the crowd going, appearing after a remarkably quick changeover that others would be wise to take note of, to deafening chants of Olé, Olé, Olé. With absolutely zero rock star posturing, the band space themselves evenly along the front of the stage like chess pieces and proceed to giggle, gurn and drink their way through an hour of ska punk classics, cornball jokes and ironic covers, pausing only to take shots of Fireball Whisky (the evening’s sponsors) and kick balloons off the stage, in one instance apologetically into the face of a girl in the front row. Songs like ‘Everyone Else Is an Asshole’, ‘Good Thing’ and ‘She Has A Girlfriend Now’, featuring Laila Khan of Sonic Boom Six, are enough to keep the party going on their own, but in-part or full covers of ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, ‘Monkey Man’, ‘500 Miles’ and, of course, ‘Take on Me’, make sure that absolutely no one leaves without a smile the size of a trombone across their face. Frontman Aaron Barrett may be the only remaining bandmember from that show back in 2004, and noticeably drunker by the end of the night than he was at the start, but he shows no sign of growing up with his audience, and that can only be a good thing for all involved. Fun times.