As I arrived at The Observatory in Santa Ana, I couldn’t help but reflect on what a crazy week it had been in Southern California. An overblown hurricane, followed by an earthquake, and then on top of that, another heat wave. I for one needed some Less Than Jake to blow off a little steam and they just happened to be in town and observing the 25th anniversary of their seminal album “Hello Rockview.”
Despite it being released a quarter of a century ago, “Hello Rockview” remains a cornerstone of the band’s discography, marking a decisive moment in the ska-punk genre’s history. Jam-packed with catchy tunes and lively horn arrangements, the album captured the hearts of fans worldwide and left an indelible mark on alternative music.
Kicking the night off to a great start was a punk rock trio The Venomous Pinks. Hailing from Tempe, AZ, they are comprised of Drea Doll on guitar and vocals, bassist and vocalist Gaby Kaos, and Cassie Jalilie on drums.
They launched into their set with “I Really Don’t Care,” a short and fast, catchy number with Doll and Kaos trading vocal duties. Next up was another speedy hardcore punk song called “Todos Unidos.” Doll’s gritty vocals reminded me of Brody Dalle’s of The Distillers.
They played a compelling set of songs that really got the mosh pit going. Closing with a tune called “We Do It Better,” The Venomous Pinks delivered the energy to get the crowd ready for what was yet to come. I highly recommend you check them out.
Taking the stage next were the New York City ska veterans known as The Toasters, who infused the show with a nostalgic and effortlessly cool atmosphere.
Led by Robert “Bucket” Hingley, the band treated the audience to the lively track “Social Security,” and had the crowd skanking along to the beat. Following this, they serenaded the crowd with the endearing tune “Thrill Me Up.” The Toasters’ live show is a ska extravaganza that delivers on its promise of infectious rhythms and a whole lot of fun.
Other notable songs played were “Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down” and “Talk is Cheap.” They finished their set with the throwback track “Weekend in LA” and Less Than Jake’s horn section came out to join in and help bring the performance to a big finish. Whether you’re a dedicated ska enthusiast or simply a fan of high-energy live performances, seeing The Toasters live is an experience that’s sure to leave you with a smile on your face and a skip in your step.
As the lights dimmed and the crowd’s energy surged, you could sense the anticipation in the air growing. The stage design paid homage to the iconic artwork from “Hello Rockview,” featuring vibrant colors and a playful atmosphere of props, and cutouts to perfectly complement the band’s lively performance.
The lights completely went out as an illuminated smoke stream shot straight into the air like a smokestack, with the accompanying sounds of a train pulling into the station, and a voice announced “Welcome to Rockview, the friendly community…” A large cheer arose from the crowd as Less Than Jake took the stage with a blaze of enthusiasm. The band delved straight into the opening track, “Last One Out of Liberty City,” and the crowd erupted into a frenzy of cheers and applause, singing along to every word. The atmosphere was electric, a perfect blend of nostalgia and raw excitement that set the stage for a special musical journey. Playing each track in order, they effortlessly transported us back to the late ‘90s, when the album had first captured our hearts. Up next was “Help Save the Youth of America From Exploding” followed by “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads.”
The band is led by Chris DeMakes on vocals and guitar, with Roger Lima on vocals and bass, Matt Yonker on drums, and the horn section of Buddy Schaub on trombone, and Peter “JR” Wasilewski on saxophone; together they make the stage came alive with energy and excitement. The objective tonight was the complete execution of all 14 tracks from the iconic album, and it became a musical journey that took the audience through all the familiar and cherished tunes. To elevate the experience even more, beloved masked characters Evo Kid and Skull Man hit the stage to wave flags, and engage in lively interactions with the enthusiastic crowd.
DeMakes introduced “Theme Song for H Street” by acknowledging that they seriously thought about skipping it entirely because it hadn’t exactly been a fan favorite or a song that anyone had actually ever requested. But DeMakes acknowledged that they must in fact play every song off the album. The honesty was met with laughter and a general appreciation for the song’s inclusion.
Schaub can definitely be the band’s ambassador of enthusiasm, as he interacts with the fans and ignites their spirits as he traverses the stage with boundless energy during songs that don’t feature his trombone.
Up next was the ode to slackers and underachievers – and a favorite of mine – “Automatic.” Rolls of toilet paper were shot out into the crowd with leaf blowers while we all sang along. Sometimes a certain song can take to another place, and for me it was when Schaub began playing the opening riff on his trombone to “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts.” I couldn’t help but be transported back in time to sun-soaked asphalt parking lots and The Vans Warped Tour and the good times had.
They continued with their most recent song played tonight, “Lie to Me,” followed by another favorite, “Gainesville Rock City.” Finally, DeMakes said, “Santa Ana and surrounding areas. As loud as you can!” as they closed out the night with the poignant “Look What Happen” that literally again had everyone singing along.
Less Than Jake’s 25th anniversary celebration of “Hello Rockview” was more than just a show; it was a testament to the enduring power of music to unite people across generations. The band’s ability to transport us back in time while still delivering a fresh and invigorating performance was a tribute to their talent and dedication. As the crowd dispersed – smiles on our faces and hearts full – it was clear that we had been part of something extraordinary.
You can catch Less Than Jake at the When We Were Young Festival in Las Vegas on October 21st and 22nd. Chris DeMakes will also be giving some very special tours at The Punk Rock Museum in Las Vegas that week.