Gainesville's Less Than Jake wailed away while a steady stream of audience members crowd-surfed their way onto the stage. Surf wranglers barely had time to escort one sweaty kid off before another was tumbling his way up and over the human canopy. A camera crew captured it all on film.
Florida's most famous ska-punk band played to a sold-out crowd of about 700 for the first of two back-to-back shows at the State being taped for an upcoming DVD. It seemed every male in attendance was dead set on reaching the stage via the time-honored punk tradition of crowd surfing (no women were foolish enough to engage in the grope-intensive activity).
The roadies/surf wranglers waited like ball boys at opposite ends. As soon as one of the audience members reached the lip of the stage, the wranglers — 30ish with average builds — pounced like panthers. Their mission was to keep the crazies from crushing one of the monitors, banging into LTJ front man Chris Demakes or getting whacked by Buddy Schaub's outstretched trombone.
From my post, stage right, I found watching the crowd surfers/surf wranglers to be the highlight of the evening.
The wide-eyed fans that managed to wedge themselves into the front row sang along to every word of Hello Rockview, Less Than Jake's 1998 major-label album that the band chose to perform in its entirety Friday. The stage monitors were only a few feet away, but I could only make out a lyric here and there.
The rhythms created by the guitarist, bassist and drummer were bouncy enough, but grew monotonous 10 minutes into the set. The trombone player and saxophonist added rudimentary squawks to certain songs, while on other tunes they simply clapped their hands and horsed around like a pair of drunken frat brahs.
What LTJ lacked in chops and inventiveness, though, they made up for in liveliness. The band kept the energy high throughout the evening and the vibe was infectious. Just ask any of the number of young men who risked sneakers, spare change and wallets to crowd surf onto the stage. Or ask the surf wranglers who struggled to manage the thrill-seeking fanatics.
It was like a scene out of Footloose. All that was missing was John Lithgow and his Bible. Occasionally, even a seasoned music critic will get the urge to shake it a little. For me, the stimulus was the chugging guitar riff of Stevie Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen."
But the folks at the Ford Amphitheatre weren't having it — not the concertgoers behind me, stapled to their seats and hounding me to sit down; not the ushers who, when I tried to dance it up on the walkway, told me to return to my seat.
It's a concert, people. Last time I checked, you are allowed to stand up! And yes, you can even dance.
Truth be told, I did my Kevin Bacon thing to keep from lapsing into a coma. As for Stevie, I would've liked to check her for a pulse. Clad in her typical flowing dress and coat, replete with Victorian lace in front, she barely moved. (Could it have been an array of corsets that restricted her?)
She sang stone-faced. The woman is either incapable of any sort of effervescence, or she was bored as hell. Detachment has always been a part of her act; she was the cool goddess who held the center microphone in Fleetwood Mac. But at 58, and sans Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie to liven things up, it might behoove her to ... I don't know, maybe she could start with a few smiles.
Stevie did concentrate on familiar hits — "Stop Dragging My Heart Around," "Rhiannon" and the like — and she did have a solid band led by veteran guitarist Waddy Wachtel. But her brassy voice, always an acquired taste (that I never acquired), has lost most of its upper register. She seemed to save up in order to hit a couple of high notes near show's end.
Oh, and just for the record: Like Bacon, I never quit shakin' it. Just kept staking out new turf until the show was over. The dance police were not gonna break my spirit.