With drinks dripping off the low ceiling, an average of three (visible) piercings per audience member and an enthusiastic warm-up by Less Than Jake, the O2 was transformed from a corner of miserably-rainy Cowley Road into a slice of alternative Californian sunshine. Reel Big Fish are the champions of fusing lyrics about jealousy, relationship hell, your girlfriend turning out to be a lesbian and all other kinds of “sucky” situations with music so chirpy you’ll find yourself pissed off at life but happy about it at the same time. As viewed through kaleidoscopic effect of the impressive ‘flesh-tunnels’ of the man in front, Reel Big Fish were resplendent in a veritable mix of Hawaiian shirts, military regalia, and extreme hairstyles. They came out to a crowd that welcomed them like old friends, and their opening song ‘I Want Your Girlfriend to Be My Girlfriend’, was sung back to them word for word, firmly establishing that the aim of this gig was going to be reminiscing about the good old days.
Front man Aaron Barrett wasted no time in creating a sense of intimacy. He questioned a couple at the front about their relationship before announcing that they were “weird”, which, to be honest, was probably meant as a compliment considering that revelling in a sense of weirdness seemed to be what a Reel Big Fish gig was all about. That, and agreeing that a lot of things in life really suck. The band’s confident crowd-talk seemed apt considering they have been going in various formations for over 15 years, achieving mainstream success in the mid-90s before building up a strong cult following ever since. Back on Cowley Road, the band cemented their status as the soundtrack to teenage angst, with classic anthems ‘Where Have You Been?’ and ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ whipping the crowd into a mob of flailing skankers. If nothing else, ska-style dancing is worth it for the intense cardio workout and the stone you will lose through sweat. This was a crowd that were reliving their youth and yelling back the lyrics that had captured the dramas they faced 10 years ago.
Reel Big Fish are no longer in their 20s, and beer belly and double chin jokes bounced about between members of the band, with a cover of ‘Monkey Man’ dedicated to their ‘hairy’ bass-player Derek Gibbs. This tomfoolery made lyrics such as ‘I hate your guts and I think you suck’ more fun than embarrassing, with the crowd embracing each statement of refusal to grow up more triumphantly than the last. However, a word of warning about the sight of a 39-year-old in a Hawaiian shirt attempting to ‘twerk’: once seen, it can never be unseen.
‘Dancing’ aside, the timing of the band was faultless, with the trombone, sax and trumpet bringing each song to a rollocking crescendo and the 6-string base providing an interesting dynamic on the beat. The trumpet solo in ‘Another Fuck You Song’ was particularly impressive, leading what seemed to be half-song, half-group-therapy session, as the crowd held up their swivel fingers and roared “fuck you” in beautiful harmony. The sci-fi theme continued and a man in a ‘Bazinger’ t-shirt got particularly excited when the Star Wars theme introduced the last set. A cheek cover of Carly Rae Jepson’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ and “everyone’s worst nightmare: a new song” called ‘I Dare You to Break My Heart’ were well received. Certain of their strong appreciation from the crowd, the band wasted no time in staging an encore, and after starting their own chant of “one more tune”, went straight into a stirring finale of the band’s biggest hit, ‘Sell Out’. Then it was time for the colourful crowd to re-emerge into 2014 and for the band to go and stick naughty post-it notes on their manager, or whatever it is that almost-40-year-old men do of a Tuesday evening.