It has been more than 15 years since Reel Big Fish hit the peak of their mainstream success when the cleverly self-aware and ultimately ironic “Sell Out” received major airplay on the radio, propelling to the group to the front of one of the many ska-revivals of the ‘90s. But rather than soak up their 15 minutes of fame before disappearing into obscurity, the band turned to their own album title “Turn the Radio Off” for advice.
Appearing to disregard their sudden popularity surge in the form of mass consumption, Reel Big Fish stuck to their guns by not losing sight of themselves or their audience. And despite having undergone numerous lineup changes, the core of the band remains present in their attitude and their music, both of which sound as fresh as they did upon their first arrival, and it is within this spectrum that Reel Big Fish descended upon the Blue Moose Tap House in Iowa City for a 90-minute set that left fans clearing aching throats and tiredly making their way home.
Following a gloriously received orchestral walk-on, the band whipped into a cut from their latest record, “Candy Coated Fury,” “Everyone Else Is An Asshole,” a perfect opener that instantly joins the crowd together with the band, thus uniting the two in the “us vs. them” mentality that many Reel Big Fish songs possess. The sound of the band, as is apparent on their live set opener, has not shifted over the years. While certain critics may view such a lack of transformation or evolution as a component of poor songwriting or simply laziness, a single minute at a Reel Big Fish show instantly casts this panning aside. Hearing a group such as this performing anything else other than their distinct sound would be a complete and total disaster.
“Sell Out” came surprisingly early in the set yet was still met with the eager response one would expect to hear from a band’s biggest commercial hit. However, the band kept the crowd entertained throughout, even if the set slowed a bit near the end. A successful revival came in the form of some clever teasing from the band upon the announcement that they would next be playing a song dedicated to their favorite beverage. After launching into 30-second covers of “Tequila,” “Margaritaville” and “Red, Red Wine,” the band finally gave in the pleading of their adoring fans and played an inspired rendition of their hit, “Beer.”
Closing with an anthemic ska version of the song “Take On Me,” there was nothing left to be done but applaud in appreciation. Reel Big Fish is a group that so clearly recognizes the beauty that lies in a night that tours mid-90s nostalgia that it is no stretch to imagine them playing before grateful fans for years to come.