Less Than Jake - O2 Academy Oxford - 5th May 2016
“Who bought our last album?” asks Less Than Jake guitarist and frontman Chris Demakes, two songs into their set at the O2 Academy. The audience response is mixed, but good humoured. “Who downloaded it for free?” he follows up, this time the audience response is slightly louder.
“Who doesn’t give a shit about anything after Hello Rockview?” The audience response is overwhelming, laughter filling a packed out venue as the banter continues back and forth between the band and their fans. Despite the audience’s apparent preference for their earlier material, Less Than Jake continue on regardless with the first track off their latest album See The Light, as the horns kick in for the opening of “Good Enough”, and with that the tone for the evening is set.
Whilst ten of the eighteen songs that make up the evenings set list will come from Hello Rockview, and earlier album Losing Streak, it is doubtful that the audience response to a flippant question was the driving force for this. This band came to play the songs they wanted to play, and over the course of 90 minutes they play a set that touches on six of the bands albums. A set embellished with toilet paper cannons, giant yellow balloons being thrown out into the crowd by a Lucha Libre, and a first time gig goer being invited up on to stage to dance with the band. More than just coming to “play”, Less Than Jake came to party.
If that set the tone, then the tempo is set by the opening number “Sugar in Your Gas Tank”, with the sustain on the opening guitar chord hanging over the venue as the drums and bass gallop to the fore, leading a charge. The repeated outro of “…non stop spinning world…”, whilst originally framed to speak to the confusion of adolescence upon the songs release in 1996, tonight feels repurposed to speak to the pace of the show. A pace that, by the chorus of second song “The Ghosts of Me and You”, has clearly been shown to be infectious; with the crowded mosh pit in front of the stage bouncing and dancing along to the music.
It is not until the fourth song, Losing Streak’s “Dopeman”, that the tempo lets up slightly. This song gives the trombone and sax more of the spotlight, and the call and response between the trombone and the bass guitar during the bridge is as a tight as it is on the record. Which should not come as a surprise, after all four of the five band members on stage have been playing together since 1993; they are clearly well practiced.
They keep the songs authentic by reproducing the album versions as best as they can, even down to playing the vocal samples and intros for the crowd pleasing “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads” off Hello Rockview, and Losing Streak’s “Automatic”. In terms of the stage mix the balance between the instruments is very good. The drums sit nicely behind the rest of the band, the brass are round with rich tones, and the intricate bass lines are given the foreground, ably supported by the comping ska chords of the guitar.
It is only around the half way point of the show, the above mentioned “All My Best Friends….”, that any cracks appear. While musically the instrumentation remains on point, the vocals start to waver a little in terms of timing; words are stretched and there are a couple of issues of intelligibility. These issues do not seem to have an affect on the crowd who sing along with every word regardless. Not just of this song, but of every song, and given that it is May 5th that means that there is time before the end for a rousing sing-along of “Cinco de Mustache”. The entire venue joins in with the a capella song, broken voices and all.
Crucially, it would seem, perfection in the performance is not what is needed tonight. Instead tonight is all about singing and dancing, legs swinging like metronomes to the insistent ska rhythms while voices are sung hoarse singing along, and singing back when needed.
It is telling that the songs, the majority of which were first released in the mid 90’s, are able to speak to an audience of all ages. “History of a Boring Town” connects with the both the ageing fan, satisfying their nostalgia for rebellion, and the young fans for who such nascent feelings and frustrations are just appearing.
Unified under the common banner of a set firmly rooted in the bands beginnings, the crowd leave after the encore ending “Gainsville Rock City” smiling, exhausted, and clearly looking forward to future visits from this band.
(A full playlist of the set can be found as a Spotify playlist at this link: spotify:user:lastmandancing:playlist:0rqD7oUMauOdtjUzwAb2M4)