Less Than Jake and Pepper
By the time Less Than Jake took the stage shortly after 10:30 p.m., half of the crowd was already stoned. They had just enjoyed an hour-long set put on by the Hawaiian reggae band Pepper, and now it was time for the ska half of the evening. The crowd consisted mainly of ecstatic, bearded dudes with the occasional 30-something-year-old woman sprinkled throughout.
As the primarily 30-something fans pushed closer to the stage, the five-piece ensemble opened their set with with classics like “Metalheads,” “Sugar in Your Gas Tank” and “Last One Out of Liberty City.” For many, it was a whole new experience to see a live performance from the Gainesville guys away from the chaos of festival (or Warped Tour) surroundings and in a more intimate indoor environment. The brilliance of harmonies combined with clear chord progressions can often be lost outdoors amongst all the noise, but the acoustics of the Observatory’s main stage offered a much better listening experience for Less Than Jake’s diehard fans.
Between songs, lead vocalist and guitarist Chris DeMakes and bass player Roger Lima offered up a slew of roast-style jokes and tales of silliness and debauchery. DeMakes recalled his recent fishing excursion in Bermuda that cost him a lot of money but resulted in no fish — forcing the band to go on tour again. “All he caught were crabs,” quipped Lima. Trombonist Buddy Schaub gave Richard Simons a run for his money with his non-stop dancing and quirky gestures, while the saxophonist Peter JR Wasilewski had a blast jamming out with drummer Vinnie Fiorello.
To mark the middle of their set and introduce “Things Change” off of their new EP Sound the Alarm, a lucky fan was invited up on stage to enjoy a cold Budweiser “imported all the way from Florida” and awkwardly dance for a few minutes. Thankfully, the singalong “Look What Happened” and a 21-year-old fan named Noah later proved that some of the audience had rhythm (and cardio), as he was tasked with doing jumping jacks on stage for a solid three minutes. Although he didn’t get a free beer, his brief moment of fame will forever live on in the dozens of Facebook Live streams and Snapchat stories from the audience.
As with any house party-like Less than Jake set, the crowd was bombarded with balloons and toilet paper blown from the end of leaf blowers. As the band reached the end of their time on the stage, DeMakes asked the crowd who had seen Less Than Jake before and who would never see them again. When much of the crowd jokingly raised their hands for the latter, the band thanked them for their honesty.
The ska icons exited the stage briefly before coming back to end their performance on a high note with “The Science of Selling Yourself Short,” “Gainesville Rock City” and “Ghosts of Me and You” — complete with confetti cannons for the third time of the evening. The show is one of the first handful of dates on their tour, and after all this time, the band hasn’t missed a beat. It’s been 22 years, and Less than Jake isn’t showing signs of stopping anytime soon.
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Serving as the co-headliner (or extended opening act, depending on who you were most excited for), Pepper made it their mission from the moment they hit the stage to make sure everyone was relaxed and feeling good. As any good reggae band would, the trio reminded the adoring crowd “You guys voted to make marijuana legal in this state, so go ahead and light it up!” The band itself must’ve already indulged, as all three sported sunglasses as they prepared to play their unique fusion of reggae and rock, leading with hard-hitters like “Love Affair” and “Like Your Style.” As far as three-piece reggae-rock acts go, the composition of Pepper’s music is full and complex while maintaining the easygoing vibe of a house party. Not long into their hour-long set, the effects soon become apparent as smoke filled the air, bodies began to sway, and hands raised up with joy.
For a special song, the advocates of guilty pleasures invited Schaub and Wasilewski from Less Than Jake to help out on “Ho’s” shortly before announcing “We’ve finally gotten a contact high off of you people, so thank you.” Yesod Williams then proceeded to perform a drum interlude right into Daft Punk and Pharrell’s “Lucky” while bassist Bret Bollinger and guitarist Kaleo Wassman took a quick break off to the side. One of the highlights of Pepper’s entire set though was the the lighting synched to spell out the name of their song “Fuck Around” as they played, before rounding out their set with “Give It Up,” “Crazy Love” and “Ashes.”
Sugar in Your Gas Tank
Last One Out of Liberty City
Things Change *new*
Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts
Look What Happened
The Rest of My Life
Overrated (Everything Is)
Do the Math
Plastic Cup Politics
The Science of Selling Yourself Short
Gainesville Rock City
Ghosts of You and Me
Like Your Style
Start You Up
Ho’s (feat. Less Than Jake)
Give It Up