I love KOKO. It’s not the biggest venue in the world, it’s probably not even the biggest venue in Camden, but its old-school multi-balconied layout always makes for a good atmosphere and a storming gig in this little corner of London Tahn. In past lives the venue has been a theater, a cinema, and a BBC studio. Now it is a 1400-capacity concert venue. It has character and charm, and is a welcome deviation from the sterile sports arenas and pokey little rock clubs so often used by gigging bands these days. Some juiced-up jobsworth security guard confiscated my Cadbury’s Dairy Milk on the way in, presumably in case I clubbed someone to death with it, which didn’t get my evening off to the best start but at least I wasn’t accused of being a Romanian pickpocket like I was at the Ally Pally last year. A Day to Remember? A day to forget, more like.
I’ve been a fan of ska punk stalwarts LTJ since their album Anthem rocked my world back in ’03. I’ve also loved Yellowcard since Ocean Avenue which, ironically enough, came out the same year. I’d never seen either band live so to get them both on the same bill was pretty amazing. I didn’t even care that it was a Monday night and I had work the next day.
Co-headlining tours often make for a weird dynamic. The first question to be answered is who’s going to play first? There is still a level of prestige that comes with playing last, on the top of the bill in the traditional headliner slot. I don’t know if they alternated or what, but on this occasion it was Yellowcard who followed French rockers Chunk! No, Captain Chunk, who I completely missed because I was eating Mexican food across the road.
Fresh off the Warped Tour and a US jaunt with Memphis May Fire, Yellowcard are a band on form. Powerful, polished, and profound, their multi-layered music comes at you in waves, and is given an extra dimension by Sean Mackin’s often-manic violin. Having progressed from their slightly more hardcore roots and survived the demise of pop punk, they now manufacture a brand of solid, mainstream rock it’s hard not to like. The bulk of the material in the first half of the show was taken from last year’s Lift a Sail, as evidenced by the opening salvo of Convocation segueing into Transmission Home and Crash the Gates, the first three tracks off the album. In truth they didn’t go down too well, which prompted front man Ryan Key to yell, “I know it’s Monday but wake the fuck up!” before launching into Lights and Sounds.
I’m no expert dude, but if you want crowd interaction, maybe starting a gig with an extended violin intro and a couple of mid-tempo plodders most of the crowd don’t know isn’t the most sensible option. A stunningly stark rendition of the piano ballad California aside, the latter part of the show was, naturally, more geared toward the crowd-pleasing classics (and there are a lot of them) building up to the one-two encore of probably their best-loved songs, Way Away and Ocean Avenue.
After roughly 70 minutes of Yellowcard, the stage was set for their fellow Floridians Less Than Jake. With eight albums and a clutch of singles and EP’s to choose from, any LTJ set list is full of potential surprises, and so it proved. They kicked things off with Look What Happened, which is a bit like Bon Jovi starting a gig with You Give Love a Bad Name. Cue mosh pit. From there it was a veritable free-for-all as the five-piece tore up the rule book and hopped, jumped and skipped all over their extensive back catalogue. It’s very clear that this is a band who doesn’t give a fuck. Their energy and enthusiasm is infectious, not to mention relentless, with Chris DeMakes and Roger Lima forming a two-headed vocal assault team that barely pauses for breath. Their (usually) good-natured banter easily plugs the gaps between songs, the duo sometimes coming across more like a well-oiled comedy act than members of rock band, a la Blink 182. One of the biggest LOL moments of the night came when, in an effort to drag fans away from social media for a few precious moments, DeMakes said, “If your phones not a dildo, you shouldn’t be using it.” Priceless.
The whole thing makes for an inclusive and fun atmosphere. This is a band that obviously loves what they do, as evidenced by trombone player Buddy Schaub’s no-holds-barred performance just six weeks after having a pacemaker fitted. At one point they invited a guy up from the crowd, gave him a huge comedy mask to wear, and let him stumble around the stage like a drunk Elvis Presley for a couple of songs. There were also lots of sparkly things and balloons. Highlights on the musical front, for me anyway, were the Ghosts of Me and You, Automatic, History of a Boring Town, and a faultless, tour exclusive (we are assured) version of Gainsville Rock City.
With a strict 11pm curfew in effect in most of London these days (ask Bruce Springsteen) the gig was over all-too soon. Never mind. Like I said, I had work in the morning. And you know what? I even had time to go and get my Cadbury’s Dairy Milk back from the juiced-up jobsworth security guard. So the joke’s on you, dick wad.