It goes without saying that Less Than Jake is just ‘one of those bands’ you must see before you die. For me, I’ve been lucky enough to have that experience 89 times – most recently in Prague, Czech Republic where I availed of my Monday-Friday perks to nip across Europe for 24 hrs and catch a weekend show.
‘You’d go to a show on your own??’
Less Than Jake’s early summer schedule was a mixture of festival slots and club headliners around mainland Europe. Given that so few shows fell on a Saturday, I booked the trip without much hesitation. This was also the first time in about 18 months that I had travelled by myself to see them. People often ask: ‘You’d go to a show on your own??’ Yes, why wouldn’t I? Don’t get me wrong, it’s better to have your friends there to enjoy the show with you, but at the end of the day, it just begs the question: is the band worth missing because you don’t want to go on your own? And when it comes to Less Than Jake the answer is, always, HELL NO! And besides, it had been nearly 10 months since I’d last seen them and my availability to hit any of the dates of this current the European stint was very limited…so one takes what one can get!
"...any pub in Dublin that sold pints for €1.67 would have its taps licked clean"
The venue was neat, it had a kind of futuristic, but also gothic, vibe to it. It was small – maybe with a capacity of about 500 for a punk show. The crowd was chilled, and the beer was cheap. And I mean REALLY cheap; a pint of the local good stuff was 43Kč, the equivalent to €1.67 back home – any pub in Dublin that sold pints for €1.67 would have its taps licked clean!
A band from Valasske Mezirici called KRANG was the only support on the bill. Though I couldn’t understand what they were saying in between songs, what I heard during certainly sounded good! They actually reminded me of another band that I had seen support LTJ a few years earlier in Slovenia – an Italian ska/punk group called Carry-All…though KRANG didn’t have the brass section. Still enjoyable nonetheless as I sipped on my cheap beer. They played for a short 30 mins before prep got underway for the headline act.
"...I relented, and stood right up front just like old times"
I had initially stood back from the front, before I found myself loitering around the stage in between bands. I spent my earlier decades of Less Than Jake shows firmly pinned to the barrier without fail – but I had relaxed in recent times and was content being further back. Though this venue didn’t give the impression of the best view if you were stuck behind a tall, Czech punk! So I relented, and stood right up front just like old times. I decided ‘what the hell’, and bought myself two more beers – when else was I going to get alcohol as cheap as this?
When you attend concerts regularly, you know the four-one-one; the way it goes. The roadies set up the monitors, they soundcheck the instruments and mics, and make sure the setlists get taped to the floor. The last thing they do is shine their torch at the lighting/sound guys, which is the cue…this is the part that always sends my heart into my throat a little bit. It doesn’t matter who I’m seeing, I just always get that surge of adrenaline knowing that the show is seconds away from starting.
"Sugar in Your Gas Tank"
The lights go down and the imperial march starts playing over the sound system, signalling the band’s entrance. Rumbles of cheering and clapping are quickly heard, and one by one, each member of the band saunters out on to the stage to a very warm welcome from a now jam-packed room. Straight away, they launch ferociously into Sugar in Your Gas Tank– a classic crowd pleaser which always gets the room bouncing. I’ve heard this song a million and one times before, but it always sounds so well perfected live and a great choice to open with.
"...he is arguably one of the best frontmen in punk rock music"
Almost as soon as the last chord of the song is struck, and the band greets the adrenaline filled crowd, Chris DeMakes has already singled out one audience member who was allegedly texting on her phone. ‘Look at her, she’s so bored!’ Straight away, the crowd is eating out of the palm of his hand – and that’s the thing about Chris DeMakes; he is arguably one of the best frontmen in punk rock music. He has an almost effortless ability to captivate an audience, big or small, with his endless wit and, albeit sometimes questionable, banter.
They don’t waste much time, and the guitar intro to The Ghosts of Me & You follows soon after Roger’s friendly reminder that ‘Anyone who uses their phone tonight will get into trouble!’
‘No, no, this is not that kind of show!’
Following the Anthem number, Chris invites an audience member onstage – simply because he was wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. It turned out that he was an English bloke on a stag weekend (the groom-to-be also made an appearance later on!). The events that unfolded over the next three or four minutes are somewhat hazy, but they involved this young man revealing himself to the audience, with several of the band members reassuring us: ‘No, no, this is not that kind of show!’ Never a dull moment at a Less Than Jake concert! 😉
One of the songs thrown into the mix this evening is Harvey Wallbanger, a track from the previous released Greetings From EP, and subsequently featured on the Greetings & Salutations compilation. Not a regular feature on the setlist – to my knowledge they had only played it a handful of times on a US and European run of shows in 2015, so it was pretty cool to hear it again; I’ll always appreciate how liberal Less Than Jake is when it comes to varying the setlists!
"Whatever the Weather"
One particularly exciting moment for me during the show was hearing a song that I hadn’t heard live before – Whatever the Weather. Arguably a lesser talked about track on the band’s most recent release, Sound the Alarm, it certainly is in no way lacking to the rest. On par with slower paced hits such as Dopeman and The Science of Selling Yourself Short, and emanating a somewhat chilled out vibe, Whatever the Weather seemed to be well received by the crowd…it certainly was by me anyway!
One of my favourite aspects of experiencing music live is the adoption of something that you don’t hear on the studio versions of a song. It could be alternative lyrics, extra horns, or extended verses – for Whatever the Weather, it’s the addition of JR’s vocals. It’s well known that the saxophone player is a terrific singer, and he even got his degree from Berklee College! It was actually joked about during the See The Light recording sessions that many people believed the high harmony notes on the record were sung by Roger – the one with the most memorable and phonetically pleasing voice – when in fact, they were sung by JR.
"...he broke a rib falling off stage at a show but still played the next night"
Back to the show, hit after hit was rattled off over the course of the night, including Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts, Look What Happened, and How’s My Driving, Doug Hastings?, all the while the audience were enjoying themselves more and more. The band’s trombone player, Buddy, kept the adrenaline going with his relentless zigzagging around the stage and banter with fans closest to the front. For someone who is in his early 40s and suffers with a dodgy knee, Buddy is probably the most active member of the group – I once heard he broke a rib falling off stage at a show but still played the next night!
Adrenaline wasn’t the only thing flowing, alcohol was too; both off and on stage – Chris was offered some beer mid-song, to which he managed to oblige whilst still playing guitar, and Roger generously poured half of his pint into the empty cup of a fan standing in the front row.
"...the number one cause of divorce is marriage"
At one point a guy wearing a Descendents shirt was brought on stage with his girlfriend. When asked how often they had sex, and following an eruption of laughter from the audience, the pair shrugged: ‘We don’t know.’ Deciding that no sex was the key to their happiness, Chris invited them to remain on stage for the duration of the next song, while JR quipped that the number one cause of divorce is marriage so the pair was on the right track.
Somehow, to the dismay of many, the young man from England with an aversion to clothes returned to the stage and managed to ‘briefly’ remove his boxers for a second time. By this stage, Chris DeMakes appeared traumatised and distracted himself by doing a brief knee raise workout. He encouraged the audience to join in, but dude, come on…we didn’t sign up for that. According to JR, he had seen more foreskin at tonight’s show than he had in a long time. Thankfully, almost as soon as the lad’s pants had come down, he had pulled them up again and was back in the crowd having the time of his life.
One thing I observed about the audience was how laid back and chilled out they were; I notice that a lot at shows in Mainland Europe. The vibe is more relaxed than it is in the UK. There’s something nice about that, everyone is just there to sing, dance, and have a good time. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to the UK to see Less Than Jake, that’s where I’ve seen them the most – but Mainland Europe will always have a pleasantness about it that can’t be found anywhere else.
"...the Internet combined with music is a great thing"
Another highlight of the show was the realisation half way through that a friend of mine from Japan was also there! She is currently living in Slovakia and unbeknownst to me was standing just a few rows behind. We had never met in person either, so it was amazing to finally talk to her face to face – the Internet combined with music is a great thing; I can’t even count the number of friends I have because of Less Than Jake hashtags on Instagram and Twitter.
Before I knew it, Last One Out of Liberty City was hinging on its last note and the band had left the stage for the encore. I say it every time, but that hour they play feels like only 30 mins at an absolute push…before you’re even aware, time has completely melted away.
Moments passed, and JR and Chris made a return to the stage, which could only mean one thing; The Rest of My Life, and another opportunity to hear JR’s amazing vocals. Chris inexplicably appeared with a loaf of bread in his possession, which he graciously shared with the audience. Any unsuspecting person might think: ‘What’s that about then?’– but it’s all part and parcel of the Less Than Jake ‘live experience’. It’s unscripted, unexpected, and always entertaining.
’ll always stay the same, I wouldn’t have it any other way'
The closing song of the night was Gainesville Rock City, one of my favourites to hear last. There’s a lyric in there that says: ‘Well I’m half awake and half a world away. All my past mistakes and every misspent day proves that I’ll never change I’ll always stay the same, I wouldn’t have it any other way’– and that hits me every time I hear it. It’s such a simple lyric, yet so synonymous with my love for Less Than Jake and unyielding passion for travelling to see them play in as many cities as physically possible. They give me a reason to love music, and drummer/lyricist Vinnie has an extraordinary ability to capture feelings, emotions and memories into words with such candour. And for that, I’ll be eternally grateful.
All of a sudden, it seemed that the show had come to an end and I was left bewildered over whether it really was a full hour and fifteen minutes that they played for. The lights came on and I was slammed back to reality. I made sure to stop by the bustling merch table on the way out for two new t-shirts that I had my eye on (oh yeah, if you don’t know me, I like to collect LTJ shirts). I also picked up some stickers, a patch, and a cool enamel pin.
Grinning from ear to ear and stumbling slightly as I left the venue upon realising that I did in fact drink 3 full beers, I wandered aimlessly back to my hotel floating on cloud 9. Nothing could dampen my spirits…not even the realisation that I’d drunkenly misplaced the enamel pin I had just bought. The only question I had was: When’s the next show?