Review by Sarah. Photos by Piano Slug/Luke.
Tonight is an incredibly special night for many ska-punk fans across the South East. We’ve been talking about this gig for months. Ever since “mildly successful 90’s ska-punk band” Lightyear announced that they would be returning for good, the anticipation has been building for London’s 20 year anniversary reunion show.
As tradition dictates, I begin the evening in the Wetherspoons round the corner from The Garage. Within a minute I start bumping into far-flung mates who’ve all united for the excitement of a Lightyear revival. Everyone’s discussing which ‘last ever Lightyear gig’ they attended; most of us having seen two or three ‘final’ tours from the band. Some of us made it to 2015’s Slam Dunk sets, but almost all of us were at the 2012 gig at Islington Academy. Having formed in 1997, Lightyear released two albums before breaking up, playing their first ‘last ever show’ on 26th September 2003. Since then they’ve done at least four ‘last ever’ gigs/tours in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2015. It’s my firm belief that Lightyear will never really get sick of giving all of us a good time, and it’s heartening to see that they’re reforming ‘permanently’. My only concern is whether the gig will live up to our lofty expectations.
Local boys, Eat The Evidence are a good wake-up band for the early doors crowd. They take all the worst elements of ska-punk and and somehow make them fun. In my mate’s words, just as they’re setting up on stage, “He’s about to rap, isn’t he? Oh god.” The sighting of an accordion in a ska band is also an immediate red flag, but it turns out to be jumpy, bouncy fun, with things looking up later in the set when the accordion gets switched out for a guitar and a ukelele.
Eat The Evidence apparently approached Lightyear after one of their ‘last ever gigs’ and made them promise to book them as support if they ever reformed. When the new tour was announced they made sure to call that favour in. Never before have I seen a band so excited to be playing a show – their singer is literally buzzing, decked out in an old Call of the Weasel Clan-era t-shirt and blabbering about how they’d even all bought tickets for the gig before they were booked. It’s endearing.
Following them are the Unqualified Nurse Band, from Lightyear’s hometown, Derby. They play melodic rock with atmospheric surf/psych elements, recalling The Doors and The Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Unusually, their drummer is their main vocalist, although they swap reverb-loaded singing between all three of them.
Continuing the revivalist theme, this is Fireapple Red’s first show in ten whole years, but you honestly wouldn’t know it. They fire through a thirty-minute set at pace, like they’ve rocketed straight out of the early-noughties. They straddle that rap-rock divide between nu metal and skatepunk that nowadays sounds like the most indulgent kind of guilty pleasure available. Honestly, I can’t fault them: I love the fast, thrashy breaks and techy guitar solos. The highlight of their set is one massive head-banger of a beat down. It’s absolutely flippin’ awesome, I just wish I had dug out my baggy jeans and my Etnies to celebrate. At least I’m still cool enough to be wearing a wallet-chain.
In the tense 20 minutes that it takes to changeover the stage, the anticipation in the room is palpable. We’re distracted by a Bez-a-like who’s having slightly too much fun, weaving his way sloppily around the room, clinging to strangers like long-lost-Lightyear-friends. Suddenly the lights go out and a gameshow-host voiceover begins, sarcastically explaining the lost history of Lightyear before dropping into 1993 reggae hit Boom Sha-Ka-Lak.
Lightyear open with Data’s Double Chin getting the entire room singing along to the essential noughties’ insult, “Your Mum’s got big hands and shops at Aldi.” It has literally been years since I saw a room full of people so angrily and enthusiastically shouting along to a horn-line, as they do for the opening to the next song, Bye Rights. They go on to play Twat Out Of Hell (which sounds as though it’s been written for Donald Trump despite being released in 2003), Life Jacket Water Wings, Nuff Cuts and old absolute-banger Kid Dynamite.
Lightyear get a solid ten-out-of-ten for between song banter, asking a girl if she needs a wee every time she raises her hand, dedicating songs to their younger selves and asking the audience to vote on their favourite member of the band (Bars wins). Chas gives a shout out to all the old bastards standing at the bar. “Remember when you were down the front, wondering who all those old bastards at the bar were? Well, it’s you now!” I’m surprised that the crowd don’t actually look that old, generally sitting around early-to-mid 30s. Chas regails us with a tale of finding Neil passed out face-down in a play park in Bristol, where they decided to smear him in dogshit before getting back in the van. We all laugh uproariously, suggesting none of us are that grown up really.
Halfway through the set they announce a new song (called Adventures of Pedro, I think), causing a slight lull in the room’s energy, as new songs often do. But, no! From the corner of my eye I spot Beat The Red Light’s frontman, Pook, coming from the back to the room, nearly battering Smokey Bastard’s Aled Jenkins with his trombone arm as he pushes through the crowd. It’s hard to see through the mass of people, but he’s leading a troupe of wayward brass musicians from old ska-punk bands, all brandishing their instruments and acoustically blasting the horn lines for the new tune. They make it to the front and assemble on stage: at least seven extra horn players crammed round three mic stands. They launch into a brilliant rendition of Pack of Dogs, changing the round at the end of the include a tribute to recently-lost Bruce Forsyth (RIP) as well as the usual nod to Michael J Fox.
Although there’s a notable lack of nudity (apart from Neil playing the entire show in tiny shorts), within five minutes they’ve offered the front-row ‘mescaline’, been thrown a shoe held aloft by a crowd-surfer, and explained their decision to get over-baked fake tans before the show. It wouldn’t be a Lightyear set without a number of weird antics. Bessie the pantomime horse makes an appearance during Tread Lightly, Speak Dearly, although her crowd-surfing efforts are slightly thwarted by The Garage’s barriers. For me the funniest and best moment is the morris dancing in the clap-along bit of Blindside.
To close the set, Chas gives an impassioned speech about how the whole ethic of their reunion is ‘no complications, no politics, no bullshit’. “The best thing is seeing mates and all having a good time,” he says, before they begin Positive Outlook. He sums up the evening perfectly: everyone in the room is having the best time on this earth. There’s no tinge of sadness as there have been at their previous ‘last ever’ shows because we know they’re coming back this time, and there’s a new album in the works. There are no downsides to this, and everyone in The Garage feels like an old friend.
Hilariously, when they come back on for the encore they announce they’re going to play Shatner’s Bassoon by request, only to realise they’ve completely forgotten it. They abandon it in favour of much-teased old track Spot Check which gets the entire room jumping around like loonies, before charging through Pre-Teen Propaganda and That’s The Way It Goes Big Nose.
Walking away from the venue, a friend turns to me and says, “You know what? Among all the nonsense, there are some really good musicians in there.” Damn right, and we’re glad to have them back.
Review by Sarah. Photos by Piano Slug/Luke.