MUSIC | Less Than Jake at Station 4: Music, miming, and some thoughts on domestic violence with respect to the Rihanna situation

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Few entertainments have the potential to bridge the age barrier between kids and adults; when and if they do, they usually carry the dubious moniker “family fun.” Walt Disney films are among those “family” entertainments, and if Disney ever made a movie about a mohawked tween nicknamed Bones, that film’s audience and the crowd at Less Than Jake this Tuesday at Station 4 would have looked strikingly similar.

Opening for LTJ were the Expendables, a pop-reggae group combining a laid-back San Diego sound with occasional high-octane metal riffs. For dedicated reggae and ska followers, their sound would probably be filed under Easy Listening, but among the motley mix of 16-year-olds and thirtysomethings at Station 4, they were a big hit.

As the opener finished, I noticed some kids with acne and ripped-up Misfits sweatshirts doing the good old punk round-kick in the middle of the floor. This warmed my heart like a Norman Rockwell print. Even if the adults weren’t as demonstrative, the excitement for LTJ was palpable throughout the room.

When Less Than Jake came on, the crowd was jumping, arms pumping, right away. The band’s performance covered a nice selection of their songs from Greased to GNV FLA. The sound was great, the horns were blowing, and the energy was high. So then why was Chris Demakes fake sleeping on his mic stand while performing? The music was good, but the antics were bad. Very bad.

It was my first Less than Jake show, but I’d heard that the band’s banter was way above par. In past shows, they’ve created fake trivia game shows where audience members were interviewed on stage, awarding fans with prizes and requests. As it stood, we listened to a two-minute commentary on the Rihanna/Chris Brown scandal (LTJ apparently “don’t agree with domestic violence, but understand it”) and to depressing jokes (“when you’re in LTJ, every day feels like Groundhog Day—and not in a good way”) followed by weak snare hits. These diatribes were followed by comments on how St. Paul crowds are always sleepy and an extended conversation about Demakes’s wish for a Comedy Central career (keep your day job, I’d say). Combined with the exaggerated enactment of every lyric of every song by Buddy Schaub, the trombonist (was the performance sponsored by the Mime Association of America? would money have been lost if even a single lyric were to go by without miming?), the extramusical aspects of the show threatened to eclipse the music.

Thankfully, I found that if I closed my eyes and focused on the feet-tapping rhythm and the melodic voice of bassist Roger Manganelli, I was able to slip my annoyance, transported again to 8th-grade days replete with punk shows at Duluth’s Alamo. As LTJ closed with one of my old favorites, “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads”, I opened my eyes to see the crowd of teenagers below singing every lyric. Undeterred by the heckling, they looked up at Less Than Jake with adoring eyes. I guess it’s all up to the kids now.

Bettina Stuecher is twentysomething.

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