“Everybody’s doin’ the fish…”

Reel Big Fish are often wrongly dismissed as a novelty or nostalgia act by the uninitiated, but there is so much more to them than that. I last saw the California band at Leeds festival 2004 but since then they have lost the integral multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist Scott Klopfenstein to family commitments. This is hardly the Aaron Barrett show though, with long time members Johnny Christmas and Derek Gibbs still sharing centre stage with the irrepressible frontman.

The band burst into a barnstorming version of fan favourite ‘Somebody Hates Me’ and while my heart initially aches in the absence of Klopfenstein’s inimitable backing vocals, it soon becomes clear that Matt Appleton, AKA Saxl Rose, is more than capable of hitting those high notes. More importantly, frontman Aaron Barrett looks and sounds amazing and leads from the front with his on-stage patter and incredible guitar playing. Because of the type of band that Reel Big Fish are, Barrett has never received the credit he deserves as a guitar player. There are far more acclaimed guitarists who would struggle to smash the solo from ‘Take On Me’ with their instrument held aloft behind their head, as Barrett does here.

I didn’t know what to expect from the set list going into this evening and while I was hoping for lots of cuts from their earlier albums, Barrett and co instead lean heavily on covers and songs from later in their career. This is not the setlist I would have chosen but it is clear that songs like ‘Everybody’s Drunk’ and ‘Another F.U. Song’ were meant to be performed live and the crowd respond in kind, especially when a horde of mini beach balls are released into the audience.

For some artists, a set laden with covers would be seen as a negative, but the Fish really are a phenomenal covers band. They veer between the sincere (‘Brown Eyed Girl’) and playful (‘Don’t Stop Believin’) with the latter drawing one of the biggest laughs of the night as the band stop half way through a slowed down version of the song for Barrett to question ‘Imagine if we played this song this slow all the way through? We’d be here for hours!’ before smashing through a break neck rendition of the final verse and chorus.

At the centre piece of the set is a 90s medley with each song being introduced by the Barrett announcing, ‘This is our big song from the 1990s’ before tearing into songs by Nirvana, Lit, the Proclaimers and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones respectively. The punchline being of course that, in Barrett’s own words, ‘We never had a hit song in the 90s… or ever!’ It is this underdog status that makes Reel Big Fish such a beloved band.

After turning a night at Sheffield Academy into a massive party the band finally pay some fan service during the final four songs. ‘Sell Out’ still sounds incredible and receives a wonderful reaction here before ‘Beer’, perhaps Reel Big Fish’s best song, brings the house down.

The band come out after a brief intermission to end with a stunning version of the 2002 single ‘Where Have You Been’ before the bands unforgettable cover of the A-Ha classic ‘Take On Me’ closes out the evening. The gold standard for any cover is, of course, surpassing the original and in the case of ‘Take On Me’ there is only one winner. In my mind at least, it is a Reel Big Fish song.

Reel Big Fish have been going for nigh on 25 years but on a rainy night in Sheffield, they prove that, as a live band at least, they are still unstoppable.

This article was originally written for GigJunkies – www.gigjunkies.com