Reel Big Fish
with The Aquabats, Suburban Legend, and Koo Koo Kangaroo
Hard Rock Live, Orlando FL • January 22, 2011
Carl F Gauze
A cold night and a packed house awaited as I rolled down I-4 past a dozen cop cars out defending us from some mini crime wave only they can see. Expecting two bands, I was taken aback by four tee-shirt tables. My heart sank. Opening acts are the bane of the Rock Writer’s existence, but tonight was special — every band was excellent, every band entertained, and the only problem I saw was that the crowd was nearly spent by the time the headliners appeared.
Koo Koo Kangaroo mixes a cup of Weird Al, a pound of Beastie Boys, and a box of Captain Kangaroo to make music that sounds like it’s kids stuff but brims with enough clever nostalgia and raucous playing to keep the old folks entertained. More Sesame Street than Barney, Koo Koo Kangaroo takes a hip hop view of entertaining children. Songs like “(PB&J) NO CRUST” and “Rollin’ in the Minivan” got us hopping as soon as they took the stage, and while I never saw anyone play a real instrument, Brian and Neil and friends bounced around and made fun of parents while reminding us that Fruit Loops and camp songs are never far away. They even tossed a huge rainbow parachute into the crowd, and retrieved it in one piece. Ska concerts and third-grade parties are all the same to them; they had the floor bouncing in the pit from their first song ’til after they struck their set. Here’s a bonus — all their music is free to download, just check their site.
Next up was a snappy act called Suburban Legends. Fronted by Vincent Walker, these guys rock and dance and offer up a solid brass section that could do this trombone juggling trick they must have stolen from Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. These guys had their chops down and while they set up, the bouncy audience stayed in place, idling on “low pogo” until the Suburbans kicked in. I didn’t catch any of their song titles, but was too busy bouncing to take notes. This was a great band, and it wasn’t even on the bill. Points to the booking agent!
My secret reason for attending this concert was to see The Aquabats. These slightly overweight guys dress in silly costumes and base their music on a complicated superhero comic book back-story. Their fans dress for the occasion with vinyl helmets, felt Zorro masks, tights, and gym shorts. This looked cool during the show, although it lost a bit of luster as I followed some of them back to the parking lot later. The Aquabats do their show with a video accompaniment — giant screen show clips of old B-movies and cheesy animations selected to match the songs. From “Pizza Day” to “Pool Party,” they whipped the crowd into an even greater frenzy. While they were attacked by evil monsters their light show protected them, and they threw offerings to the crowd while cranking out great music and even better theatre. As they wrapped up the show, they tossed inflatable sharks into the crowd, and we worked harder to bat them around than we ever did in gym class.
If the show stopped here, we could have gone home happy. The set change for RBF was lengthy, and the catharsis of batting inflatables around a thousand of your new best friends was tiring. The audience was flagging: Converse wearing iPhoners littered the periphery of the room, and even when the Fish jumped on stage the surge of enthusiasm didn’t hit the high the Aquabats received. Not that there was anything wrong with the show, but it was late and everyone had been working hard.
From “Sell Out” to “Beer” this was another high energy mosh, full of old songs and new songs, and another juggling trombonist. Lead singer Aaron Barrett and trombonist Dan Regan are the only orginal members remaining, but the new blood on drums and trumpet still give us that great Third Wave of Ska sound. These guys came through town in 2001 and I recall the constant jumping jacks Barrett did to fill between bars. He’s still bouncing around — a bit heavier, a bit greyer but no less entertaining. “She’s Got A Girlfriend Now,” “Everything Sucks” and “Skatanik” were all in there, but after 4 hours of this high-energy bath, it felt like the Four Loko was wearing off and I still had a long hike to the car through the maze of semi-functional moving walkways at Universal.
Did they do an encore? Hard to tell. This was a school night — let me know about it if you stuck around. This show is about as much ska as any one person should have in one day, but the leftover energy got me home. And all those cops? They went back to hiding behind billboards. Orlando was once again safe from space monsters and speeders.