Reel Big Fish rocks out in New Haven

Griffin McGrath

There is always a certain excitement that comes along with going to a concert. The correct clothes have to be put on, dancing shoes must be donned and the band’s complete discography must be listened to on the car ride to the venue.

Tickets are usually a must, but some regard them as an afterthought when attending a show from a ska punk band that had a few mildly popular songs in the late 1990s. Such was the case on Jan. 23 at Toad’s Place in New Haven for a performance by Reel Big Fish, just three days after the release of their newest album “Fame, Fortune and Fornication.”

After waiting with 50 dedicated fans for over two hours in near arctic temperatures, entrance was finally opened to the sold-out show. The timing could not have been more perfect with Streetlight Manifesto (the second opening band) just getting into the meat of their set. Streetlight, a ska punk band from New Jersey founded by a former member of the band Catch 22, got the crowd moving. Their interesting mix of heavy distortion, intense rhythms and a three-part horn section provided an auditory orgy that was at times pleasing, and at other times a bit grating due to the acoustic nature of the venue. Their otherwise energetic set ended with their most popular song, “Keasby Nights,” which was warmly received by the fans who enthusiastically started mosh pits while screaming out of tune to the lyrics.

Reel Big Fish’s set started soon after with a usual intro of their once popular song “Trendy,” and a few witty comments from their Hawaiian shirt-clad lead singer Aaron Barrett. Reel Big Fish is comprised of Barrett, the lead singer and guitarist, a three-part horn section made up of Scott Klopfenstein (trumpet and backup vocals), trombonists Dan Regan and John Christianson, drummer Ryland Steen, and bass guitarist Derek Gibbs.

Although the performance was riddled with technical difficulties such as a blown amp and some microphone balance issues that left some singers muffled, the band exuded confidence and charisma in dealing with the setbacks. Musically, the band excelled, at times sounding better live than on their studio albums. The vocal harmonies from Klopfenstein were spot on, and every note from the horn section was perfectly audible. The upbeat tempos and bright melodies kept the crowd constantly moving and singing along with the band, which added to generally happy and positive attitude of the fans. Two guest appearances from past band members Grant Barry (trombone) and Tyler Jones (trumpet) got the crowd even more excited.

In terms of the set list, this concert far exceeded expectations. The band played several covers, including A-Ha’s “Take on Me” and Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise,” but absolutely shined when it came to their original songs. RBF sang a smattering of some of their more obscure songs, such as “Slow Down,” and “Where Have You Been.” Of course, no Reel Big Fish concert is complete without the staple songs like “Beer” and “Sell Out” which they sang during their encore.

One of the bright moments, though, was when the band teamed up with their opening act, the female-fronted power ska band from Connecticut Tip The Van, to sing “She Has a Girlfriend Now.” The packed stage led to a dynamic and fun-filled performance that won’t be soon forgotten by any who attended.