Simply put… live music is better than recorded music in most cases. There are a few examples where that isn't the case. Reel Big Fish (RBF), a ska band that's been around since the 1990s, isn't one of them.
If you're not sure what ska is, you're not alone. For me it boils down to mixing swing with punk — a horn section, rock guitars, and an attitude. There are many definitions of ska, but they all seem to start in Jamaica and the UK in the 1960s and end when both RBF and No Doubt appeared in or near the mainstream in the 1990s. Personally, I don't buy that ska is dead.
Live! In Concert! was recorded at The Grove in Anaheim, California, at the start of RBF's "Fame, Fortune and Fornication Tour" on January 4, 2009. Twenty-five hundred insane fans packed into the venue to watch these guys play and I have to say I was impressed.
If you're looking for extras on the DVD, don't bother. But I think 20 of the band's hits and covers that found their way onto the set list is enough. It's quite obvious that these guys know how to have a good time on stage. And I doubt anybody in the audience sat down once the band got going.
RBF consists of Aaron Barrett on lead vocals and guitar; Ryland Steen on drums; Scott Klopfenstein on trumpet, guitar, and vocal harmonies; Dan Regan on trombone and backing vocals; Derek Gibbs on bass and backing vocals; and John Christianson on trumpet and backing vocals. And all of these guys can wail. Yes, they play loud and have a great time doing it, but every one of these guys has serious musical chops. The audio is about as good as you'll hear from a live performance on CD or DVD — crisp and clean sound throughout the concert.
My only problem with the whole DVD was some of the camera work. It appeared they had a few Steadicams recording footage throughout the night and those were fine. But it was the two or maybe three handheld cameras that drove me nuts. There was a period a couple of years back with films like Cloverfield and The Bourne Supremacy where the "shaky cam" shots were overused to get the viewer more into the action. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But for a concert? At more than one point I had to look away from my TV while watching the video simply because I was getting nauseous.
Beyond that quibble, the picture was crisp, the color was bright and lively, and overall I think this is one of the best live concerts I've seen on DVD in quite a while… so long as you look away every now and then when the shaky cam is on.
The music during the concert was amazing. I had only heard of RBF in the context of other ska bands such as the Cherry Poppin' Daddies and No Doubt, but now I'm going to have to pick up an album or two for my collection.
The mere fact that Barrett can play an electric guitar while dancing like he does is simply amazing. And at one point he plays a guitar solo with the instrument up and behind his head where he can't see it. I've never seen anything like it.
The RBF covers of "Kiss Me Deadly" (Lita Ford), "Nothin' But a Good Time" (Poison), and "Take On Me" (a-ha) gave new life and a ska edge to all three songs. I never would have thought to have transformed big rock guitar songs and electronica from the 1980s in this style, but it works! Christianson has an amazing trumpet solo during "Kiss Me Deadly" that I watched twice just so I could catch it again. My wife and I were both laughing as we struggled to remember who played the songs originally and now we'll think of RBF the next time we hear them on the radio.
Klopfenstein is absolutely hilarious throughout the concert when interacting with Barrett. You can tell these guys have been working together forever. He can definitely hold his own against Barrett's powerful personality. And Klopfenstein has some serious vocal talent as well. During the song "S.R." near the end of the show, he takes lead vocals a few times as they sing the same song a few different ways and surprised me each time.
The music on the DVD is amazing. The arrangements are great, the lyrics hilarious and with some serious attitude, Barrett's guitar is unbelievable, and the horns rule. That's the one thing that keeps me coming back to swing and ska music – the horns. Where else can you hear ripping trombone solos like the one Regan has in "She Has a Girlfriend Now"?
Beyond my complaints about some of the camera work, this is one of the best concert DVDs I've seen in quite a while. If you are looking for an awesome live concert DVD with a ton of energy, check out Reel Big Fish: Live! In Concert! There are some mature lyrics in some of the songs, but it's part of the ska attitude. If you can't swear in the lyrics at least once, it's probably not real ska. Check out Barrett and the boys and enjoy the ride!