Less Than Jake Concert Review
Written by Jeff Ramella on March 6, 2019
By Brian Lange
The band that is Never Going Back to New Jersey played their first show of 2019 at Sayreville’s Starland Ballroom on February 22nd. Less Than Jake are certainly not newcomers to the venue, having performed there countless times in their 27-year history, and are not a tired appearance either. Opening the show was New Jersey locals Backyard Superheroes, who have been opening for ska punk legends for the better part of a decade. Following them were the energetic pop-punk band The Jukebox Romantics, who balanced the ratio of punk bands to ska bands for the night.
Right before the headliner was Anti-Flag, the politically charged punk band who have been writing protest songs throughout several presidential administrations. The audience was notably more involved during their set, opening up giant circle pits for a very evenly split setlist of old songs and new. To their credit, decade-old songs written about contemporary political climates such as “Turncoat” and “The Press Corpse” have proven to be very relevant when played in 2019.
At the end of the night, Less Than Jake took the stage, opening their set with the more obscure older songs “Shindo” and “Suburban Myth.” After those two songs, bassist and co-vocalist Roger Lima confirmed suspicions and yes, they did, in fact, have a very weird setlist prepared. The vast majority of their performance drew on their run of records from 1996’s Losing Streak to 2003’s Anthem, covering popular songs and deep cuts alike. And, of course, “Never Going Back to New Jersey”; an obligatory inclusion to an LTJ show in the Garden State.
Typical to a Less Than Jake show is guitarist and co-vocalist Chris DeMakes’ playfully antagonistic relationship with the audience on display between songs. This was seen, for example, when a kid with hair down to his shoulders was pulled from the audience and brought onstage, where Chris offered him $5 to go and get a haircut. Also notable of this show was that it was Less Than Jake’s first-ever performance with their new touring drummer Matt Yonker, who is filling in after founding drummer Vinnie Fiorello’s decision to take a step back from live performances.
After closing the core of their set with half of a cover of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and the fast-paced “Plastic Cup Politics,” the band returned for an encore one member at a time over the course of “The Rest of My Life.” The song has been rearranged in recent years, now frequently occupying this space in their setlist, and the song is much more emotionally potent in this context than on its album. The encore continued with the very old “My Very Own Flag” and the very popular “The Science of Selling Yourself Short.” Rounding out the night was “Last One Out of Liberty City,” the explosive first track on what Chris referred to earlier in the show as probably their best record, 1998’s Hello Rockview. The show was further proof that Less Than Jake can consistently pull from all different corners of their deep discography and put together an exciting show, no matter how many years into their career.