Words & Photos by Scott Murry
If twenty years ago, you’d told Less Than Jake that they’d still be selling out shows today they may have believed it, they’re cocky sometimes. In ’95 they put out their debut LP Pezcore on the independent label with a heart of gold, Dill Records (which became Asian Man Records). Just one year later they were in the majors with Capitol Records riding out the ska boom releasing the 1996 masterpiece Losing Streak, an album that served as a gateway drug to punk and ska for a plaid-obsessed generation. Looking around the sold-out venue of Brighton Music Hall last Thursday night, knowing that the band were planning to play the classic album in its entirety, excitement was palpable. As one fan drunkenly sang “Just Like Frank” a few more perked up to howl along every word—and the band hadn’t even come out on stage yet.
Warmly greeting the crowd, co-vocalist/guitarist Chris Demakes cracked a snide grin to announce, “It’s great to be here. I gotta say, it’s nice to see teeth … We’ve been in Virginia Beach the past couple nights.” He continued the jokes and reminiscing to the early days, “[Remember] the days you had our poster on your wall? I was a semi sex-celebrity in Jamaica.” The band like to compare themselves to their contemporaries Green Day and Blink 182, but, “funnier, more talented, and a third of the price.” Co-vocalist/bass player Roger Lima fondly lead into the song “107” with memories of the band originally sharing an apartment and accidentally confusing each other’s underwear.
At Less Than Jake, you don’t just get a concert, you are buying a stand-up routine as well. But it’s the music of LTJ that prompts joyful wiggling in the coldest of souls. It’s like when you turn on some choice eighties music or Taylor Swift—people can’t help but dance. Even if you’re made of stone, their artisanal horn-infused beats bring a party to your pants. They even brought back the oft-loved leaf blowers to shower fans in their confetti of choice, toilet paper. Sounds gross, looks awesome. The concept alone is nostalgic for days of decorating a neighbor’s house in rainbows of soft ply.
Some people tend to be shocked that the band are still around, forgetting them as a part of their hormone-raged youth and discounting their sound as a temporary phase. I’ve fallen into this mindset in previous years, but every time I revisit their music or hear a new release, the lyrics, positivity, and humor reignite my passion. I’d imagine we’ll likely still have Less Than Jake around in another 20 years. Each band member is involved in music outside of the band with record labels, recording studios, and confusing real estate gigs. Maintaining the same core lineup all these years, they appear strong. Whether it’s a common love of Pez, or creating music together, well shoot … they’re on a winning streak.
Just before Less Than Jake, Mustard Plug skanked the stage. The Michigan ska band were a mainstay in the late ‘90s as well known for performing in yellow suits, although their following didn’t hold up as well. Lead man Dave Kirchgessner felt it as he asked who’d been to a Mustard Plug show before. With few hands rising he said, “We’ve been around 25 years and only eight people have seen us. Geez, anyone have any heroin? Well that escalated quickly … I’m kidding!” One girl endlessly texted from the front row with an expression of pure boredom. Kirchgessner swiped the phone from her hands to turn the embarrassment around. The humorous power move put some energy back into their set as pressed against the stage barrier to high five fans.