Pop-culture critic Chuck Klosterman once said, "There is a certain emotion we all have the potential to experience, and it is an emotion that can only be described as 'terrifying nostalgia.'" You experience this when you suddenly realize that you live a completely different lifestyle than you did several years ago, but you never actively chose to stop living it, and you don't ever think about it, let alone miss it.
"Terrifying nostalgia" is the only way to describe the ska show featuring Reel Big Fish and Streetlight Manifesto at the Barrymore Wednesday night. For many high-schoolers, perhaps more than the general public may realize, ska music is central to their social lives, but when it comes time for them to go to college, ska suddenly seems to disappear. CDs are shelved; T-shirts are given back to the very same Goodwill that they were purchased from and life moves on, at least for you. But what one may not realize is that ska shows do not move on at all. They are eerily persistent time capsules, with the only change from year to year being the new crop of high-schoolers in the audience.
Disturbing as it is to go back to the concerts that time forgot, it's easy to remember why they were so appealing in the first place. Ska music by its nature is remarkably upbeat and danceable, and crowd enthusiasm is usual high. Wednesday night, everyone in the crowd was incredibly happy to be there (perhaps it was a nice break from sitting at home with their parents), skanking wildly, thrusting fists in the air, laughing and singing along.
When Streetlight Manifesto sang, "This has been the best night of my life," the crowd shouted it back with remarkable sincerity. From a college perspective, such a refrain is inconceivable. It was just a concert after all. But what struck me the most was that no one (I repeat no one) was drinking because no one could pass for 18, let alone 21. The "best night" of their lives happened sober, a completely foreign concept for many college students.
Streetlight Manifesto seemed to feed off this youthful enthusiasm like leeches. The band is a fusion of two defunct bands, with half of what was once Catch 22 and half of the band One Cool Guy, but they put on a show twice as good as anything either group could have done. Lead singer Tomas Kelnoky (who is still as much a dreamboat as he was five years ago) glided around the stage, drenched in sweat, smiling widely. Sax player Mike Brown looked incredibly psyched to be playing for the crowd regardless of their age. The group's latest album is a reworking of Catch 22's 1998 album Keasby Nights, which only added to the feel that the band has not progressed since the few college-aged concertgoers were in high school. Nevertheless, the songs were performed to studio perfection.
After Streetlight Manifesto was Reel Big Fish. The crowd seemed to grow in number for their performance but there was noticeably less energy by the band and the crowd. Reel Big Fish came out with the Superman theme song blasting. After every song, they announced how many songs they had already performed, making the set slightly tedious. Like Streetlight Manifesto, they played songs that were hits a long time ago, but unlike Streetlight Manifesto, they seemed rather annoyed to be doing so. They are starting to show signs of age both physically and in their performance as a whole, but by and large the audience didn't care too much.
Despite having to stand in the middle of a skankpit surrounded by 15-year-old boys with body odor, the show was as fun as it ever was. And while they seemed vaguely relatable at the time, Tomas Kelnoky's lyrics, "My, my, my, how the time flies by when you know you're gonna die by the end of the night," seem a lot more relevant now, when studying for a test often means staying out at the library way past your bedtime.