In an odd but awesome coincidence, Less Than Jake brought their 20th Anniversary tour to the Grog Shop as part of the venue’s 20th anniversary celebration on Thursday, September 13. How fitting… A DIY band and a DIY venue both sharing a remarkable milestone on the same night!
Making the less than easy drive to Cleveland Heights, I was stoked to see what the show would entail. Upon arrival, I immediately noticed the diversity of the crowd. A mix of hardcore fans, hipsters, late twenty-somethings, and teenagers were all anxiously awaiting the Gainesville, Florida natives. It always makes me happy to see a wide age range at shows because it demonstrates that a band is good enough to break age barriers and appeal to a wide audience.
Less Than Jake started off the night with a quaint, limited capacity BBQ held outback of the venue. The small get together was put on by Alternative Press magazine and was a great way to prepare for what was coming later in the evening. Lead singer and guitarist Chris Demakes and bassist/backing vocalist Roger Manganelli grabbed some acoustic guitars (jokingly on loan from Guitar Center) and entertained the small crowd with some LTJ favorites. Between songs, the boys’ banter was hilarious and not excessive by any means. The guys surprised fans by playing “Abandon Ship” from their 2008 record, ‘GNV FLA,’ a fan favorite that is not usually included on the band’s setlist. Their voices and guitars blended well together; neither overpowering the other. It was a very well done acoustic set, especially for a band not used to playing one. It was a low-key beginning to a less than mellow evening to follow.
Two opening bands preceded direct support act A Wilhelm Scream. Personally being somewhat familiar AWS’ music beforehand, I was excited to see what the band would sound like live. Their hard rocking guitar riffs and intense drumming sequences did not go unnoticed as their music translated well in a live setting. The band, hailing from Massachusetts, seemed at home on the stage and knew how to get a crowd pumped. With set highlights including “The Horse” and “The King Is Dead,” the 5-piece outfit seemed to be pretty well received by the crowd. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that most people coming to the show that were previously only familiar with Less Than Jake left new fans of A Wilhelm Scream.
Finally, the time had arrived. Less Than Jake was ready to go! Bringing along trombonist Chris Rhodes from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, the stage was set for an awesome show. The high level of energy that radiated off the stage was immeasurable. I have been to very few shows where the intensity of the band and the fans combined even compares to what I felt at this show. The crowd sang along to every song and danced, moshed and jumped along with the beat to songs such as “Sugar In Your Gas Tank” from 1996’s ‘Losing Streak’ and “Scott Farcas Takes It On The Chin.” These standout tunes really got the crowd going and kept the energy level at an extremely high level.
Demakes asked for volunteers from the audience, which I later learned was supposed to be for trivia, but ended up making one girl’s night an evening she would never forget. The volunteer requested to play bass alongside the band to “All My best Friends Are Metalheads.” After an inter-band discussion and help from the crowd, Manganelli handed over his bass to the 19-year-old rocker chick and away they went. She rocked out the song, impressing everyone in the crowd, including the band. Her reward for kicking ass? Other than the opportunity of a lifetime, of course, she was presented with a ridiculously awesome Richard Marx album. I’m pretty sure at least half of the audience had never heard of the 80’s/90’s heart throb, which made the prize even more funny and obscure. The downtime between songs was yet again filled with mindless banter between Demakes and Manganelli, which would normally bother me in this situation, but surprisingly kept the show moving and added to the entertainment value. It helped that the guys were pretty damn funny.
This show demonstrated why Less Than Jake has survived as a band for 20 years, while the majority of peers in their genre were lucky to have enough support and fan interest to record more than two or three albums. One of the reasons the band has been so successful is that while they don’t take themselves too seriously, they take their music seriously and, more importantly, take their fans seriously. The quality of music was in no way hindered by the focus on having a good time. Another plus, the sound quality was easily one of the best I’ve heard live in a long time.
Bottom line, if anyone is looking for a night of fun and catchy tunes, go check out Less Than Jake!