I need to commend Less Than Jake. I’ve seen them six times now and not once where they the act on the bill I was most excited to see. Sure, I enjoy them as much as any fan of third-wave ska, but throughout the years, they’ve really managed to stay relevant in the underground scene by touring alongside a ton of other great bands. February 21st at The Phoenix was no exception, with Beardcore legends Four Year Strong performing Rise Or Die Trying in full, alongside punk rock up-and-comers Direct Hit! and Bearings, it was sure to be a hell of a night.
Bearings took the stage first. Although I wish the floor was a little less sparse in support of these almost-local Ottawa boys, that didn’t stop them from giving their all. They have a solid modern pop-punk sound, and I may have initially brushed them off as generic-sounding but I’ve also originally felt that way about every single modern pop-punk band that I love today. So hey, there’s already a ton potential for them to be your next week’s earworm.
Direct Hit!, much like Bearings, has always been a band whose name I keep hearing, but never bothered to check out. Based on how quickly this next band got the crowd fired up, I’m totally out of touch. The punk rock quartet was full of energy, and their high-speed, power chord-driven music was reminiscent of genre giants like Green Day, only with much grittier vocals. Proudly flying their “DIRECT HIT! FUCK YOU” banner, they mixed humour, attitude, and showmanship all within one packed, half hour set. They fed off the crowd’s energy so easily, and could have effortlessly been the headliners if they had the fanbase to back them up. Here’s to hoping they get there one day.
Four Year Strong hit the stage for the last show of their Rise Or Die Trying tenth (now eleventh) anniversary tour. They played the album in full, but not before warming the crowd up with a couple other songs first. It was all equally enjoyable to me, but there was a substantial increase in the crowd’s movement during the opening breakdown of “The Take Over” versus “What The Hell Is A Gigawatt?” and “Who Cares?” which they played beforehand. Although not my favourite Four Year Strong album, Rise Or Die Trying was a delight to hear in full. The band clearly enrolled in the “Fall Out Boy School Of Fitting Too Many Words And Melodies Into A Single Hook” before recording this album, and the vocal performance was a bit lacklustre if I’m being honest, but that didn’t phase the crowd. They happily tried to keep up with the band, chanting along to every chorus, and moshing along to every breakdown, myself included.
I previously mentioned how much I respect Less Than Jake for always finding their way onto wicked tour and festival lineups. That’s a great thing, because their live show deserves to be seen by everyone. Despite the stigma surround the goofy ska genre, their shows are just good fun. On top of picking setlists that appeal to casuals and diehard fans alike, all members have got a great dynamic between them. They play off each other’s banter so naturally that there’s never a dull moment, even between songs. Less Than Jake makes a 70 minute set feel like two hours, and in the best kind of way. Co-frontmen Chris DeMakes and Roger Lima do an excellent job of making the crowd feel welcome, and incorporating them into the set. Throughout the show, they’ve invited four adults and two kids up on stage just to dance along to the next song in front of one thousand people. So, thank you, Less Than Jake, for helping the average Torontonian live out their fantasy of being your band’s Ben Carr.
Written by Mathieu Perrier
Photography by Gabby Rivera
*edited by Danielle Kenedy