Reel Big Fish, The Boileroom

It has been a week of contrasts for California ska punk icons Reel Big Fish.

Their show at the vast Sonisphere festival at Knebworth House was duly followed by an appearance at the intimate Boileroom last Friday night (July 11).

But then Reel Big Fish have always been something of an enigma.

Like their peers, Less Than Jake, Sublime, and so on, they have carved a career from a style of music which arguably saw its heyday while the band were still in short trousers.

But despite never enjoying a ‘hit’, per sé – save for the popularity of 1997 single Sell Out – it’s hard to argue with a career that stretches back the best part of a quarter of a century, spawning eight studio albums.

Ska has always been the preserve of the outsider, of the also-ran, and it is this underdog mentality that seems to chime with the hordes who packed into The Boileroom on Friday.

Following lively warm-up acts, The Magnus Puto and The Jellycats, a heady haze of steam, sweat and anticipation hangs over the sell-out crowd. There is no pretension; everyone’s here for a good time.

It’s an intoxicating feature of The Boileroom, a venue, which over the best part of a decade, has established itself as arguably the last bastion of live alternative music in Guildford.

It has built a reputation for giving top acts a reminder of the club circuit where they made their names.

The band’s infectious enthusiasm as they bound onto a stage, barely big enough to accommodate them – let alone their brass ensemble – is testament to the kick they still get out of performing.

Delving deep into their fulsome back catalogue, the band’s hour-long set draws as much from the likes of fan favourites Beer and Trendy from 1995 debut Everything Sucks as it does from 2012’s Candy Coated Fury.

But it is the blinding finale, featuring hit covers Monkey Man by Toots and The Maytals and A-Ha’s Take on Me that bring the house down.

Limbs flail and beers are spilled as the skanking and the po-going reaches a crescendo. It may be just another night on tour for Reel Big Fish; but it feels like The Boileroom has scored a coup.

While the band may have been selling out much bigger venues more than a decade ago, Reel Big Fish come over as a group enjoying their twilight years.

And if the dozens of smiling faces who trouped out of The Boileroom are anything to go by, they will be welcomed back any time.

James Chapple

Pictures by Sophie Garrett.

Originally published in the Surrey Advertiser, 18/07/14

Note: The Boileroom is currently facing a licensing review, which could potentially result in its closure. Please help support the venue by reading and signing this.