Sometimes the weather can make a concert that, otherwise would be just okay as far as attendance is concerned. Numerous small music festivals and outdoors shows often sell extra tickets for the sake of being in the summer and for something fun to do outside. For anyone that lives in an area that sees significant snow, they would know the opposite is also true. Bad weather, can prohibit turnout to a show that on paper should sell well. What is the point to all of this? On February 2, 2011 Cleveland (as did a significant portion of the country) had one of its worst snowstorm in recent memory in terms of both snow accumulation, freezing rain, and ice. Throw in some crosswind for good luck and you have every reason for a show to be cancelled, or at the very least poor turnout. However, the city of Cleveland lived up to the challenge of getting to the show at all costs and having a great time. While the venue was not sold out, it came pretty close. A pretty remarkable feat when you consider that there were questions that afternoon if the show was even going on.
The concert consisted of three touring bands: Less Than Jake, the Supervillains, and Off With Their Heads. The opening band was a local band called Reverse the Curse. The show started pretty much on time with the venue still being filled by people affected by the inclement weather. The first band, Reverse the Curse played a fairly short set that consisted of about seven or eight songs. They played an interesting blend of post-punk music that seemed to draw influences from indie music, ’90s emo music, and an overall punk vibe going on. At some points they drew similarities to Balance and Composure. They were a four-piece band. They had singer/guitarist that acted as the frontman and had a rough and energetic projection to his vocals. They had a bassist/back-up vocalist that had a much more melodic voice that could hit some pretty high notes. There was a drummer that had some drum fills that were very pleasant and was an overall good musician. They had a fill-in guitarist/keyboardist play with them, Andy Cook that was pretty big in the local Cleveland scene in the early 2000s. It was pretty cool to see him on stage again as he is a very talented musician. Most of the people that were there seemed to overall enjoy their set, but it seemed like some people weren’t sure how they fit the bill playing post-punk. Overall, they were a really solid opener, especially for being a local band.
The first touring act of the evening was Off With Their Heads. Having seen them a time before, I kind of knew what to expect from them as an opener. They have really toured rigorously for several years now. It is great to see them on consistently big tours such as this one, Bad Religion last year, and Dropkick Murphys this spring. They played a pretty similar set that was played last time. A good mix of their most current album, In Desolation and their first record, Off the Bottom. Unfortunately, this night may not have been OWTH’s as their frontman, Ryan Young’s guitar would not work. When a replacement was found and they started their set, the sound from the boards was just not sounding all that great. There seemed to be an over abundance of echo on the vocals and the second guitar seemed to be a bit overwhelming and drowning out most of the backing vocals. The sound definitely got better, but never seemed to have that punch that was there the previous show. All in all they seemed to have a bit more fans that knew the words than last time, which is a good sign for an up and coming band. More people had managed to make it into the venue during their set as well, thus making the overall atmosphere much better. There were glimpses of some good mosh pits as well, which is also a good sign of progress and gaining a bigger following.
The Supervillains were next up and their vibe was a complete 180 from the other two openers. First of all, their drummer, who is also a lead vocalist plays stage front and center. That alone is something rarely done these days. Their music is best described as reggae/ska with some punk moments at times. The styles they combine have been done several times over; however, they don’t take themselves really seriously, which allows them to write and play what they feel. Whether it is writing songs about sex or a certain illegal herb, the listener is not going to find a song that is meant to change the world like John Lennon’s solo songs. And quite frankly, it works and works well. The crowd really bought into their sound, which is one of the most important things a band can do. The crowd loved the interaction with the band and even though Cleveland was in the midst of a blizzard, it felt like summer was here, at least for their set. Ultimate highlight of the set was when they covered Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out” in the middle of the set.
They are perfect when you want relaxing music without having to think about much. Every musician is really good at what they play, but their approach is just different from the norm. Their guitarist took a few solos that were great, their bassist was finger picking every part (even the fast punk parts) and their saxophonist had a handful of memorable parts as well. Their drummer had some nice fills, but like a lot of reggae music, the drums are not always playing the most difficult parts. Instead, it’s about a steady beat and good sound. The vocals of their guitarist were especially great. When he wanted his voice had that reggae feel to it that is so unique and relaxing, but at the same time he could just sing naturally and hit high notes. Their drummer who is in all likelihood the frontman, also had a pretty good voice as well and fit well for the overall sound and style they were going for. The last musician was a jack-of-all trades musician as he played multiple keyboards and played guitar. He was an overall DJ kind of guy that looked pretty young and really added a lot of under the radar moments to the set. They are one of those bands that you have never heard before until you hear them live that you really grab a hold of. If very few of the concert goers knew of them prior to the evening, then they gained a venue full of new fans. They really played a good set that may or may not have been cut a little short due to various delays prior.
Up last and certainly not least was Less Than Jake. To an anxious crowd, the band opened with “Sugar in Your Gas Tank” and immediately everyone was singing the words to what was most likely a pleasantly surprised band. Due to the whether and the fact they were almost stuck in Pittsburgh, they had every right to think that this evening could have a small and intimate crowd. The opener lead right into “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts” and a cut off their most recent full length GNV FLA. For anyone who has not seen LTJ live or is very familiar, the band is serious about what they do, but they do not take themselves seriously. People probably get the wrong impression sometimes, but they are great musicians and entertainers that know how to involve the crowd. For the fourth song and one of the band’s most popular songs, ‘All My Best Friends are Metalheads” the band brought two guys on stage from the crowd to have a contest of who could dance worse. It should be prefaced that of the two lucky people brought on stage, one was wearing a scuba mask and the other was a guy mistaken in the crowd for being a topless girl as he was wearing a headband with long hair and had no shirt on. Maybe not the ideal way to attract attention to yourself in front of a band, but at least he got noticed!
Their set included an overall great mix of songs that hit pretty much every release. They even played two of their covers off their most current EP, the TV EP, which were the Anamaniacs and Sponge Bob theme songs. The next antic the band pulled aside from the jokes made between songs was calling out a mature gentleman who was texting on his phone between songs, which lead to the band calling the man and his wife on stage to dance to the next song called, “Never Going Back to New Jersey.” After saying they were going to play a song off their b-sides record, they ended up toasting their first song ever written, “Liquor Store” to all of the hipsters that may be in the crowd. It was a nice way of keeping things fresh as far as songs go, but also taking a jab at people who only like the early output from a band. LTJ followed the throwback song with another classic in “How’s My Driving Doug Hastings?” After this came one of the more bizarre, yet cool things I have seen a well-established band do before. The lead singer noticed a small group of younger fans that were apparently in a ska band together in high school and called them on stage to play a song of their own. The band ran around stage or watched on the side as a group of kids played their own song with LTJ’s equipment! For those kids, that could be a huge moment of encouragement and a feeling to work for again. Yeah, the song was not as pleasant as hearing another classic LTJ song, but that was not the point at all.
“Plastic Cup Politics” followed the local band as the last song before the encore, which included three of their more well-known songs in “Rest of My Life, Science of Selling Yourself Short, and Ghosts of Me and You.” It should be noted that “Rest of My Life” was played in the stripped down fashion with guitar, vocals, and drums coming in towards the end. Really solid close to event-filled night and show. The show was great because fans of all eras and ages could walk away pleased with little complaints. But more importantly, the show was great because LTJ’s reminded people of what music is supposed to be: fun and from the heart. There is no bullshit with them. They are not taking people’s hard-earned money and then singing over an iPod as their live show. The members are all capable enough to sing their own words well and play their own instruments well. They are also playing their own songs that they wrote, not the disturbingly popular “co-writing to take the band to the next level” routine that is getting a bit out of hand.
On a night that had question marks written all over it, stemming from the weather, one could not have been more pleased and have as good of a time as this particular night. Despite technical difficulties at times, every band brought good energy and an overall effort that must be commendable. For the local opener, they had a chance to gain more fans in front of bigger audience than what they typically play. For Off With Their Heads and the Supervillains, they were able to tour with a well known and respected band and stay relevant in the music world. For Less Than Jake, they got a bit more than what they were probably anticipating. That was clearly evident in how they interacted with the crowd and overall fed off of them. An overall great night to hear lots of familiar and unfamiliar songs.