by Bryan Holland
Saturday night in downtown Huntington can be quite the sight to see. With its eclectic mix of dive alley bars and fancy, suit and dress restaurants, it has something for everyone. Going to see a show at The Paramount is always a good choice as they’re known for drawing big crowds with great line ups.
In town on February 18th was the Less Than Jake and Pepper tour, which for this writer, was an extremely exciting mix of bands. Generally, you’ll have bands of the same genre playing together and if “fun to watch” was a genre, then it would make sense here. Here, we have a Hawaiian reggae punk rock fusion group in Pepper opening for a legendary punk-ska band from Gainesville, Florida, Less Than Jake.
Pepper has been making music since they were teenaged “surfer dudes” listening to Bob Marley and Sublime in Kona, Hawaii. Their first major release, entitled “Kona Town” came out in 2002; although, they had been playing for a few years prior with release of a demo. The producer on Kona Town was Steve Kravac, who had previously worked on some Less Than Jake albums. A lot of their most popular fan favorites are off of Kona Town. Pepper opened their set with “Stormtrooper”, direct from that first, Kravac-produced album.
Pepper brings a party atmosphere wherever they go. On February 18th, they were in full debauchery mode. They have an upbeat style to their music, which blends reggae and rock, with elements of punk. As a 3-piece-bad, Pepper impresses with the fullness of their sound. A lot of people in the crowd were there for them as they tore through a span of fan favorites including “Stone Love” and “Ho’s”. The light show was spectacular and they had a fervent pace to their set. Ever the crowd pleasing bunch, Pepper would constantly check in with everyone and make sure they were going all out for this Saturday night spectacle.
Less Than Jake has been a solid staple in the punk-ska scene since their first album “Pezcore” dropped 22 years ago. Officially beginning 25 years ago, this tour is commemorating the 25th anniversary with the release of a new EP named “Sound the Alarm”. Less than Jake is a 5 piece with guitar, bass, drums, saxophone and trombone players. The crowd suddenly seemed to grow less “surfer dude” and more “flat-cap-and-black-and-white-checkered-pants” fast. Right from the get go, a “skank pit” blossomed (think mosh pit but more dance-oriented). The ska scene was alive and well in Huntington. After the second song, they noticed a couple in the crowd and proceeded to call the man up onto the stage. Eventually, they called his girlfriend to join him up there with one condition: They had to make out for the entirety of “Things Change”.
After talking about how many states these days are legalizing marijuana, a forgotten albeit illegal job is becoming obsolete: the weed dealer. “Dopeman” was their fourth song, an early hit that had many of the long time fans singing along. Less Than Jake continued rocking along with hits from many of their early albums like “Losing Streak” and “Hello Rockview”. Their fans are very loyal and the big, dancing circle in the center of the floor never ceased to move and skank.
They are also a very fun band to watch as they are extremely animated and interactive. During “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts” a fan or tour mate came from the side of the stage wielding a toilet paper gun, shooting it out all over the crowd. Right after that an obvious fan favorite came in “Look What Happened”. From the opening lyrics “And I swear it’s the last time, and I swear it’s my last try”, the crowd was almost louder than the band.
This was a very fun and enjoyable show and it was nice to see a mix of music as opposed to a bunch of the same for a change. The bands had great intensity and showmanship and the crowd was involved throughout. You can find more info on the bands at their respective websites.