Less Than Jake plus more at the Pine Street Theater

Less Than Jake is a kick in the pants. The Gainesville, Fla.-based pop/punk/ska group has done a lot since forming in 1992. In the nine years of the band’s existence, Less Than Jake has put out 76 different releases. With all the compilations the band has been on, that number soars to over 130. And they have reportedly been touring since 1995.

Hanging backstage before Less Than Jake’s big Pine Street Theater show in Portland, it was easy to see that these guys are just a bunch of big kids. Lead vocalist Chris and trombonists Buddy and Pete chilled out around a table of sub sandwiches and vegetables.

Songwriting comes to the guys in the band at very strange times. Buddy claims that guitarists Chris and Roger come up with the shells of songs while on the toilet.

Many of Less Than Jake’s songs are influenced from real life situations. “Johnny Quest” was a nickname for a boy who told Less Than Jake that they ruined Gainesville punk-rock by playing ska and having horns. “Jen Doesn’t Like Me Anymore” refers to a girl that used to have a crush on Chris.

The song “9th at Pine” actually is the intersection where Portland’s Pine Street Theater is located. The last time the band visited, about five years ago, drummer Vinnie witnessed a supposed racially-induced fight. As he watched the fight right in front of him, he had a hard time deciding whether or not to intervene. That’s where the song’s lyrics come from.

Touring has been a huge part of Less Than Jake’s lives. Buddy claims to have been touring pretty consistently since 1995.

“It’s been forever. Nonstop since ’95 pretty much. We take a month off, but we basically just keep going. It’s kinda like being a schizophrenic; you’re just used to being home with your woman and things are normal, and then you’re gone again, and then you’re with eight, nine, 10 dudes in a bus. It’s really different than being with a loved one. Not that I don’t love my compatriots…”

Buddy said that the band actually gets along really well, but if someone’s being a “pooper,” then they all know exactly which buttons to push. “And then that person crawls in a hole.”

The disadvantages of having such a large band (seven performers) are that you have to smell that many feet, according to Buddy. “We have 12 people with us in the bus, including our bus driver. That’s 24 feet!”

Trombonist Pete said that he starts to lose it when he wakes up in the morning. The claustrophobia of the bus’ bunks gives the sleeping quarters a “coffin” feel, according to Chris.

The band will travel to Europe after finishing up the last six concerts in the American tour. Then, they’ll have a little rest, and go right back at it by performing on the Warped Tour (what Less Than Jake calls “punk rock boot camp”). Right after that, Less Than Jake will head back to Europe for some more touring.

Chris had a great idea for a tour. Iraq.

“I want to tour Iraq and get killed. You guys [LTJ] would be rich if I died in Iraq. What a statement that would make!” The hilariously grumpy Chris always had something interesting to say.

Not too long ago, Less Than Jake was performing in large sports arenas on Bon Jovi’s tour.

“We’re done with that,” said Buddy with a smile. The band admitted that they mostly played for a “VH-1 crowd,” that thought Less Than Jake was more endearing than entertaining.

With such great talent and large following, one would assume that Less than Jake knows how to pick up chicks.

“Chicks? Like little chickens?” Buddy said. Seriously, he admitted, “I don’t know, I’m married. We’re all married, except Roger. He’s a flaming hormone. You should ask him how to attract chicks, although he wouldn’t have the answer either.” They eventually told me to ask boy band singers how to get chicks.

Lead singer Chris amazed everyone with his random thoughts. These thoughts ranged from the power of wielding a shotgun in a bank, to the fact he hasn’t ever in his 27 years of life had hemorrhoids, to his alleged childhood yearning to be a gynecologist. Such creative mannerisms make for great musicians.

I was offered a carrot in ranch dip before the show. I couldn’t refuse.

After the chat, the music began. The very first band of the night was Teen Idols. This band rocked the house with their powerful pop/rock sounds. The four-piece group Nashville was well-received with their original blend of 1950s style and punk-rock energy. With slicked back hair and leather jackets galore, Teen Idols was an awesome pop/rock opener for the night’s punktivities.

Once Teen Idols finished with their snotty ’50s-style punk-pop, the band Anti-Flag took to the stage. I had never heard of Anti-Flag before, and wondered what was up with their name. Once the band took to stage, an upside down flag appeared behind the stage that read “Anti-Flag. One people, one struggle.”

Anti-Flag gave an awesome performance. With powerful political overtones to their angry punk songs, the band moved the audience intellectually as well as rhythmically. I took the band’s political cries seriously from their performance, despite the interruption of every other word with an expletive.

Shortly before Anti-Flag’s “Flagship” song, lead singer Justin Sane got on his soapbox to talk about the political evils in America today, and to endorse third-party candidates. Then the crowd headbanged wildly to the sound of “Die For Your Government.” The audience was left in a unified awe once Anti-Flag left the stage.

Next up was New Found Glory, a punk/pop group from Coral Springs, Fla. While their songs weren’t as hardcore as the preceding groups, this band provided a great Blink182-style lineup of well-performed songs. Famous for singing many cover songs, the group offered some awesome original music as well. They did, however perform their punk version of the hit song “The Glory of Love” from The Karate Kid, which was a huge hit.

Then, finally, it was Less Than Jake’s turn. An impressive glowing backdrop of a Simpsons-like alien appeared, and the crowd roared. Since I’m not a big Less Than Jake follower, I didn’t know many of the songs, but all were rockin’ punk/ska tunes that got the crowd moving. “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts” got the biggest reaction from the audience.

The band even played their awesome punk cover version of The Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You.” During the last songs of the evening, Chris riled up the crowd by saying that he remembers Portland has having the biggest and best mosh circles.

This led to a huge mosh pit, with nearly everybody in the room flying around in some fashion.

Less Than Jake played mostly new stuff from their latest album, Borders and Boundaries. Chris knew the audience wanted to hear old hits, but said “too bad, we’re gonna play this anyway.” The new music was good, but it sucked not to hear “History of a Boring Town,” or even Portland’s own song “9th at Pine.”

The concert was a huge success, not only because there was no room in the theatre, but because the bands all came with a sense of uniting the punk rock community. Everybody had a good time, except for the occasional girl who was sucked into the mosh pit. But it’s all in good fun!