Photos and Review by Benjamin Leatherman
Better Than: Trying to skank at a No Doubt show.
A lot of people out there despise the Aquabats with a passion. Jaded music critics, surly rock fans, and even the security thugs at Aquabats shows love to drink the hater-ade on the Orange County ska-pop group. They usually crack on their simplistic and silly lyrics, obnoxious stage antics, and ostentatious superhero costumes. One particularly nasty diss came from the pierced mouth of some bitter record clerk at Zia, who labeled them “KISS for 12-year-olds.”
And while the slur seems a little vicious, its fairly apropos, since, like the painted-up demons from Detroit Rock City, the Aquabats have an overly-enthusiastic fan base who will dedicatedly buy up each of the band’s albums and turn out en mass at their shows, with or without costumes.
Aquabats fans loves them some costumed antics. Watch Benjamin Leatherman's slideshow from the Aquabats show.
It’s not just the ‘Bats inanely screwy songs which bring them out time and time again (at least not completely), it’s also the oddly gleeful and upbeat sense of togetherness they get through the band’s music and at their gigs, which are like an “Island of Misfit Toys” for teens, early twentysomething-aged music scenesters. Most of the fans could care less that the heyday of ska was a decade ago, and that the music world has moved on to “Hey There Delilah” -- they just prefer rock out in their own way, like Napoleon Dynamite dancing to Jamiroquai in his moon boots in front of the whole school.
Even the banana boy showed up at the gig.
Although some of the Aquabats faithful (myself included) dislike that the band has abandoned its more-traditional ska-like roots over the past few years for a more hornless and mainstream pop sound, they’ll still turn out in droves for their shows, like they did the other night at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe.
While it was chilly and raining outside, it was practically sweltering inside the cavernous venue, as at least 2,000 Aquacadets jammed into the joint and braved an über-shitty parking situation as most of the available spots near the theater were gobbled up by patrons from the Tempe Festival of the Arts and the Arizona State versus U of A game at Sun Devil Stadium. “I can hardly breathe,” one concertgoer remarked as he worked his way out of the sweaty mass of people surrounding the stage and headed to the bathrooms.
The crowd was packed, jacked, and ready to attack.
It was definitely a ska punk-friendly crowd to be sure, as the folks who weren’t dressed in the standard band costume (usually consisting of a silver foam latex helmet, Zorro mask, a pseudo Aquabats championship belt, and a band tee shirt) sported shirts for groups like Big D and the Kids Table, Reel Big Fish, and Operation Ivy. Aquabats fans are an already fairly raucous and energetic bunch, but they were extra keyed up tonight, and the trio of high-energy opening acts of The Stitch Up (alt-rockers from L.A.), Suburban Legends (ska-poppers from Orange County), and Streetlight Manifesto (skapunkers from New Jersey) fed the crowds’ fervor to the Nth degree.
Keyboard and saxophone guru Jimmy the Robot gets some blow time during “Super Rad.”
So when the five members of the Aquabats took the stage (after an amusing video where they rode horses through the desert), the place exploded harder than Hiroshima. Frenetic frontman MC Bat Commander and his crew wasted no time kicking the gig into gear with their two biggest songs, “Fashion Zombies” and “Super Rad,” and the audience went batshit (pun very much intended). During these anthems, the commander bounced around the stage like a spring, performing leaps and jumps to the music, in addition to strutting and posing his ass off.
The MC Bat Commander does his best ballerina pose.
Despite the fact that spectators were acting raucous – including skanking, pogoing, flashing the Aquabats’ hand signal and crowd-surfing up a storm -- there was hardly any slam dancing to be seen, which, in a sense, reinforces the Aquabats philosophy of positiveness and just having a goofy good time, without all the usual music scene posturing and dramatics.
The true fans know the Aquabats hand signal by heart.
Speaking of goofiness, during most Aquabats concerts, the band offers a multimedia video show projected on a screen above the stage, featuring nutty bits of stock footage, cuts from obscure flicks, and newsreel highlights befitting each song (much like their kindred spirit “Weird Al” Yankovic). For instance, during “Pizza Day,” the screen was lit up with clips of cafeteria food and excerpts from ‘80s films. The concert was also quite interactive, as songs like “Pool Party” had the ‘Bats throwing out inflatable beach balls from the stage and “Throw Away The Trash!” saw MC Bat Commander holding a large plastic garbage can for audience members to toss trash into. (Maybe that’s where Peachcake got the whole silly string-spewing and stuffed animals-slinging shtick from). The commander also interacted with his minions during “Hi-Five City!,” when he encouraged those in attendance to live out the song’s message then and there.
Guitarist Eagle Falconhawk points his axe at the crowd.
“I know there’s a lot of you standing around saying, ‘I’m not gonna give the guy next to me a high five,” he said. “But that’s what the terrorists want, so start dropping some high fives. If there was a giant claw that could drop us all into some terrorist area, we could high five our way to victory!”
The MC Bat Commander beckons to his minions.
Other amusing bits of between-song antics included a moment of silence for the recently-deceased Evel Knievel (which was actually news to some audience members), and the commander jokingly professing his affection for this state and its Aquacadets, even if it seemed like a “I heard Phoenix likes to party!” kind of shout-out.
“Tonight’s show is about love, the love we share together,” he said. “We’ve been coming to Arizona for a while…like over two years…and we may not be the best band in the world, but there’s no better fans than the Arizonians!”
Bassist Crash McLarson does his thing.
After performing “Hello, Good Night” from The Aquabats Vs. The Floating Eye Of Death!, the band did their usual leaving-the-stage-only-to-come-back-for-an-encore shtick, where an amusing video plays of them exiting the venue and hopping into a waiting jet, only to return when they hear the chants of the fans begging for more. In this instance, however, it was updated to feature the Aquabats riding away on horseback and firing off sixshooters (which fit with the opening video).
Once that comical formality was out of the way, they exploded into “Look at Me (I'm a Winner)!,” followed by a lengthy “bedtime song” where the commander serenaded the Arizona fans about how much they rule, and a rendition of “Captain Hampton and the Midget Pirates” before calling it a night.
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As the lights went up in the Marquee, the fans were gleefully high-fiving each other as they filed out into the cold in good spirits. Sure, it might seem a little lame, but it sure beat getting into drunken brawls in the parking lot.
The (Mostly Complete) Set List: 1. “Fashion Zombies” 2. “Super Rad” 3. “Circle of Love” 4. “Pizza Day” 5. “Hi-Five City!” 6. “Martian Girl” 7. “Throw Away The Trash!” 8. “Pool Party” 9. “Red Sweater” 10. “Hello, Good Night” 11. “Look at Me (I'm a Winner)!” 12. Storytime song/Praise for Arizona 13. “Captain Hampton and the Midget Pirates”
Personal Bias: I bought Fury of the Aquabats the week it came out.
Random Fact: The MC Bat Commander (real name: Christian Richard Jacobs) is a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.