Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Monday November 8
HMV Forum, Kentish Town

Last night was an education. My first punk show in London, featuring Less Than Jake, We Are the Union and East London’s The Skints. And, unfortunately, So-Cal-it-hurts pop-punk granddads Zebrahead.

Queuing up for gigs here makes you feel like a volunteer paper recycler. And the bouncers are always a treat, right? “Stage dive if you want, keeps us busy,” said a rough-looking charmer near the front with a toothy glint in his eye.

By 7:00pm, the Kentish Town Forum was filling up. Studded belts, green hair, Mohawks and a few oldies. Detroit’s We Are the Union went on first. And their infectious, no-nonsense ska punk reeked of the road.

We Are the Union blend catchy, melody-hewn ‘90s pop-punk with ultra-fast, Fullblast-style drumming, a dash of trombone and some catchy nerd-core screams and gang vocals. Like old Less Than Jake meets The Swellers, Rehasher and Daggermouth.

Up next, The Skints slowed things down, transforming the Forum into a throbbing, dub-reggae dancehall. Fuzzy, non-stop-groove bass lines blended with treble-heavy dub riffs and so much reverb and delay, I can still hear them now.

Multi-instrumentalist Marcia Richards jumped from saxophone to keyboards, to flute, to vocals, offering some sweet melodies to drummer Jamie Kyriakides and guitarist Josh Waters Rudge’s King Prawn, Jamaican-styled dub vocals.

I wasn’t expecting much from Zebrahead. Their brand of pop-punk skirts the Bowling For Soup, toilet bowl side of the genre. 37-year-old lead vocalist Ali Tabatabaee hulked around the stage, getting the crowd to hug each other, sit down and “bounce” with him, like a clown at a kid’s birthday party.

Whenever Tabatabaee wasn’t singing, led by new backup vocalist and guitarist Matty Lewis, Zebrahead sounded much more likeable. Lewis had more of a geeky, pop-punk, Tom DeLonge vibe – a strange contrast next to his muscular, CK-model-for-hire counterpart.

The memory of Zebrahead (and Tabatabaee’s waxed chest) soon faded as Less Than Jake took over the Forum. Instantly, their humongous personalities shrunk the stage down to the size of a plank of wood. Their enthusiasm was electric. The place was packed, all the way back to the cheap seats.

The Gainesville ska-punk legends blasted their way through a mammoth set of classics, thankfully, not dipping into their guilty-pleasure new TV soundtrack EP beyond the theme tune to Animaniacs.

Songs like “Help Save the Youth of America from Exploding,” “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads,” “History of a Boring Town” and “Look What Happened” haven’t aged a day. And Less Than Jake banged them out with the passion and flair of a new band, seemingly overwhelmed by the response they still enjoyed – almost 20 years after the fact.

“When I was 12 years old, my favourite band was Iron Maiden. And if you’d told me then that I’d play to an English crowd and they’d go crazy for my band, I’d have said ‘Fuck off, you’re crazy!’ So thanks London,” said guitarist Chris Demakes, choked up with his fist in the air. “Now, back to the dick jokes.”

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