Reel Big Fish – live

Are Reel Big Fish big? No. Are they clever? Certainly not. But can they get everyone dancing and having a good time on even the dankest Norfolk evening? Yes they definitely can.

With their limited mainstream success now long in the past, Reel Big Fish have in recent years made their living by touring relentlessly, including a stop on their current European tour to the gloomy and claustrophobic main room of Norwich’s Waterfront.

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Over the years the band has gained a cult following, filling venues wherever they go. But Reel Big Fish did not gain this massive underground following for no reason. They are simply an incredible band to watch live: unashamedly goofy, possessing a natural charisma on stage, with their musicianship never faltering. It’s no wonder that so many fans keep coming back for more.

Over the course of their hour and a half set, the band showcased over two decades of wonderfully eccentric Californian Ska songs, which simultaneously made one smile and skank out like a spider on speed at the same time.

Sadly however, it was quite a wait till this gig really took off thanks to the substandard support. Bristol-based outfit Magnus Puto were opening, but despite boasting two vocalists (which seemed to serve no purpose other than letting one of their mates be in the band) they failed to make any sort of impact.

Magnus Puto’s style can best be described as a weird cross between the Arctic Monkeys, Gentleman’s Dub Club and Clay Pigeon. And as great as that combination may sound on paper, in reality it translated poorly; their performance neither being ridiculously loveable like Reel Big Fish, nor delivered with enough sincerity to be taken seriously in its own right. While they were certainly not awful, the experience was ultimately unremarkable.

The main support slot was taken by Suburban Legends, who are really a poor man’s Reel Big Fish. While it was impossible not to smile at their dancing and the childish energy of their performance – the brass section being more tightly choreographed than your typical North Korean military parade – their songs were sadly just so horrifically written that it is nearly impossible to really enjoy their onstage antics. Undeniably they upped the tempo of gig thanks to a couple of populist Disney covers, but as soon as they started playing their own songs, the lack of any substance was abundantly clear.

Luckily though, the main event did not disappoint in the slightest. The setlist was built upon the solid foundations of old favourites like Sell Out, Where Have You Been and She Has a Girlfriend Now, though also peppered with a number of songs from their poorly-received new album, Candy Coated Fury. Whilst the new songs made a much better impression live than their recorded counterparts, Reel Big Fish were on much firmer footing when sticking to the bread and butter of their discography.

They progressed through their set quickly, never allowing the performance to become stale, including the timely cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit, Call Me Maybe, which caused a peculiar mixture of elation, bemusement and mild outrage within the crowd – only to regain favour with fan favourite, Beer.

By the time the band started their last song of the night, their signature cover of the 1980s classic Take On Me, the atmosphere was jostling with perspiration, condensing and raining back down on the tired bodies at the front. Reel Big Fish really know how to play a fantastic live show. Whilst they have never pushed the envelope forward, if you want a fun night out, a Reel Big Fish gig is a solid bet.


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Harry Edwards

May 2021
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