A lot has changed since Florida-based rockers Less Than Jake rode the third wave of ska to stardom in the 1990s.
Frontman Chris DeMakes said some of those changes are surprising to fans of the band’s punk-rock, angst-driven style.
“I run a lot, which isn’t technically punk rock,” DeMakes said. The band last came through Spokane in October, and DeMakes said he was stopped by a fan as he jogged near River Park Square.
“He said, ‘Chris?’ And I said, ‘Yeah,’ ” DeMakes said. “He said, ‘What are you doing?’ He was perplexed.”
Less Than Jake makes its second appearance in the Lilac City in seven months Thursday at the Knitting Factory, playing with perennial tour partners Reel Big Fish. DeMakes said they and the Orange County, California, band are a natural fit, having both attained some mainstream success at the peak of ska-punk popularity in the mid-90s.
“Us, Reel Big Fish and Streetlight (Manifesto) kind of have a corner on the market,” DeMakes said. (Streetlight Manifesto plays the Knitting Factory on May 31.) “There’s not too many ’90s ska-punk bands that are really doing it anymore. The (Mighty Mighty) Bosstones only play a handful of shows every year. Rancid doesn’t tour that much.”
To keep the shows fresh for fans who have been following the quartet since its beginnings, with the release of the album “Pezcore” in 1995, Less Than Jake tries to switch up its setlists and provide less-conventional entertainment while on stage. At the October show, DeMakes and fellow vocalist Roger Lima invited Spokane’s Tambourine Man – aka Michael Ransford – up on the stage for a song or two, much to the delight of the crowd. DeMakes said “of course” he remembered those antics.
“There’s almost one in every city,” DeMakes said. “In St. Louis, there’s ‘Beatle Bob.’ He’s probably in his mid-to-late 50s, and has the (Beatle) haircut.”
Audience participation is something the band has always embraced, DeMakes said. A running gimmick in the mid-2000s had DeMakes donning a jacket and emceeing the show as a “Price is Right” style host, and the band even invited professional wrestlers onto the stage for a bout during one leg of a tour.
“We’ve never had a scripted show, where it’s the same thing every night,” he said. “I think at that point, it would become a job.”
But there are some aspects to the show that can never change, he said, like the need to play the band’s up-tempo number “All My Best Friends are Metalheads” from the 1998 release “Hello, Rockview.” It would be the band’s most commercially successful album until 2003’s “Anthem,” which peaked at No. 45 on the Billboard charts and produced successful mainstream hits like “She’s Gonna Break Soon” and “The Science of Selling Yourself Short,” another staple of Less Than Jake setlists.
“From there, we try to sprinkle in five, six, seven or eight songs that we really like,” DeMakes said.
While the third wave of ska saw several big-name artists in the mid-1990s with the success of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “The Impression that I Get,” Reel Big Fish’s “Sell Out” and some of Less Than Jake’s tracks, the genre has been on a bit of a hiatus the past 15 years as musical tastes have changed. But DeMakes said the energy of the music and the installed fan base could easily produce another mainstream punk-ska revival.
“It’s really only going to take some label head out there going, ‘OK, I’m going to take four good-looking kids, put them in skinny ties and a white shirt, and have them play ska-punk,’ ” DeMakes said. “It’s one hit, one song from being back on the radio, and it could be the fourth wave of ska, who knows? It’s music that will forever be there. I think it’s a timeless kind of music.”
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