by John Tarpley
Conceived in the '60s by Caribbean rhythms and far-traveling AM stations and birthed by Prince Buster and his rood boi buddies in tropical studio shacks, ska grazed to maturity in the fields of 1980s Northern England, shepherded by greats like The Specials and Madness. Exported to America in the '90s, it was injected with West Coast punk hormones and gobbled up by a hungry public. Since then, the fatted calf of ska has been pecked clean to the bleached bone. As the years went on, bands became more scarce, ideas more stale and dudes by the thousands found out the hard way that wearing checkered bowling shirts with Airwalks gets you nothing more than an express ticket to Celibacy City.
What I'm saying is that you've gotta hand it to Reel Big Fish. Years after ska became synonymous with irrelevancy, the So-Cal troupe is still in demand from a hungry fanbase. And at risk of losing any rock-crit cred I've collected along the years, I'll own up to my own tuba-sized soft spot for RBF. Their cover of A-Ha's "Take On Me" can still make me skank if no one's looking and (gulp!) if you ask me on the right day, "Why Do They Rock So Hard," their 1998 moment of genre-mashing gold, would be one of my desert island discs. For a band that sung "there's so many fish in the sea/they all look like me," Reel Big Fish may not spawn little fishies as much as they used to, but they sure as hell out-swam the rest of the pack. The electro goofball duo of Koo Koo Kanga Roo and Fayetteville ska-punkers Six Hung Sprung open.