It’s late October and the temperature’s still rising as our endless summer continues. For the locals, royalty is going to be on display this Wednesday night at the House of Blues in the form of Reel Big Fish!
There are tons of stories out there that will tell you just how Orange County became the epicenter of a music world in the ’90s. No Doubt, Save Ferris, Goldfinger and The Aquabats are at the top of that revolutionary list. For OC ska-punk fans, great music is only half the story. It’s the bands that made the scene what it is today, that continue to burn in the souls of the locals. This Wednesday, a few bands will be on stage that personify what loyalty, class and community in the OC look like.
For a while ska wasn’t at the forefront of music; in fact, many would say ska was dead … but the locals knew better! Truth is, radio wasn’t giving much love to ska bands, but then the Interrupters recently changed that. Now, it’s a real big deal again. Back in the day, there were a few local bands that kept the ska fire burning, including Suburban Legends and Voodoo Glow Skulls; from the Midwest there was Mustard Plug; and from the East there was Big D & The Kids Table and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. There are more, but these are among the ones that stand out. That said, the larger-than-life band that maintained a high-level of exposure for the OC was and is Reel Big Fish.
There was also another band that’s near and dear to the hearts of the locals: Starpool. This band was comprised of former members of the original Save Ferris and the co-leader of No Doubt (Alan Meade). For years, they put on great shows and holiday festivals. They also provided a stage for up-and-coming bands to play and get the exposure they may not have received otherwise. The band leader was Brian Mashburn, formerly of Save Ferris and now in Bite Me Bambi. When asked why they always included newer bands in their shows, Mashburn said it builds a sense of community, and it’s a way to repay other bands that did that for them.
What’s interesting about the local ska community is identifying the most respected bands out there. Opinions vary, but the two bands that come up most often are RBF and Starpool. They top the list because of their involvement in the scene and how they support newer bands. As for RBF leader Aaron Barrett, he is credited for building a supporting environment. He attends local shows and he too provides a really big stage for local bands to play on. To build a community, you need direction and leaders; Barrett and Mashburn have earned the respect from the locals for being just that, for the scene and the musical genre.
All that being said, I’ve been very lucky to have known Aaron as long as I have, and not just as a media guy. I’ve gotten to know him, his family, the band and his circle of friends. Simply put, he has a lot of good people around him. Like a few legends, he’s soft spoken but turns into a monster once the lights go on and he takes the stage. Like Mike Ness of Social Distortion, Barrett also cares about his fans; this show Wednesday night will be a big Halloween present to them.
So, what’s the deal with this show? It’s somewhat of a homecoming, and not just for the Fish. Opening will be Marquis & the Rhythm Howlers, a band that oozes volcanic creepiness and cool music. It also helps that they’re very entertaining. Then there’s Bite Me Bambi; this band may be newer, but they bring some legit credentials. It features former members of Save Ferris/Starpool (Mashburn-guitar) and T-Bone Willy on trombone. There’s also Mike Berault (keys) from My Superhero and Ryan Brown (guitar) from Static Fiction. On sax there’s Kyle “The Spaceman” O’Donnell from Starpool and Dan Evans (drums) from the Pocketeers. Then, there’s lead singer Tahlena Chikami (Unicorn Injection/Karate in the Garage). Collectively, the band brings it, while Chikami may just be the best female ska-lead to come out of the OC since Gwen Stefani.
The Maxies may not be a ska-punk band, but they are third-wave-ska-punk adjacent. Their shtick is that they’re from Greenland, but truthfully, they’re from Riverside and all parts of Orange County. This band is also led by a local favorite, Matt Leonard (a.k.a. Maximum Maxie). They are very Ramones-esque, but they have a variety of sounds to captivate audiences. Maximum is insanely cartoon crazy, and he often engages in banter with the crowd that just makes you laugh or shake your head; either way, you’ll be entertained. The Maxies have been together more than 15 years entertaining the locals. The band consists of Maximum (vocals), David Alacon (bass), Jason Hatfield (lead guitar), Joshua Hatfield (drums), Donovan Martin (rhythm guitar), Nate Phung (keys) and Fernando Meza is their Bi-Polar Bear mascot. They are simply electric and beyond entertaining.
As for the Fish, their current release, Life Sucks…Let’s Dance, is doing very well and their fans love the new tunes. The band is as tight as ever. It features Barrett (lead vocals and guitar), Johnny Christmas on trumpet, Derek Gibbs on bass, Matt Appleton (aka Saxl Rose) on sax, Brian Robertson on trombone and Ed Larson on drums. Fans love songs like “Sell Out,” “Take On Me,” “Beer,” “She Has a Girlfriend Now,” “Monkey Man” and newer songs “You Can’t Have All of Me” and “Ska Show.” RBF sounds great, and they’re one of the most fun bands on the planet.
Bottom line, home is where your family and friends are. So check this show out because these bands will make you feel like you’re a real big fish!
Reel Big Fish, The Maxies, Bite Me Bambi and Marquis & The Rhythm Howlers at House of Blues, 400 W. Disney Way, Ste. 337, Anaheim, (714) 520-2334; houseofblues.com/anaheim.  Wed., 7 p.m. $25. All ages.