In a musical world that’s frequently cast as "adapt or die" and one that’s ruled by youth culture and Next Big Things, Gainesville ska-punks Less Than Jake have proven that persistence pays. The band has never veered far from its ska-punk roots, and its core lineup — drummer and lyricist Vinnie Fiorello, vocalist-guitarist Chris DeMakes, vocalist-bassist Roger Lima, and trombonist Buddy Schaub — has held strong for more than two decades. (Sax player Peter “JR” Wasilewski, the “newcomer” of the group and now their go-to spokesman, joined way back in 2001.)
Though the outfit formed in 1992, it truly established itself during ska’s third-wave moment in the sun, the late-'90s explosion in the genre’s popularity that coincided with (or perhaps brought about) the rise of acts like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No Doubt, Goldfinger, and Save Ferris. All of those acts have fizzled away (or, in No Doubt’s case, evolved into something far bigger than a niche genre act — and then maybe fizzled too?). Less Than Jake somehow carries on, continuing to issue predictably solid horn-inflected punk albums (eight and counting, with 2013’s See the Light the most recent, along with a number of EPs and live albums) as though the movement never ended.
It’s something it's able to do, in large part, aided by a fanbase earned via a pair of landmark albums. 1996’s Losing Streak and 1998’s Hello Rockview mixed scruffy skateboarding anthems, boisterous horns, and ebullient pop-punk into a series of fast-moving, infectiously hooky tunes that sound just as good in a dark, sweaty bar as they do blasting from an open window on the highway in the bright summertime sun. Though they never scored a true radio hit or laid down one signature song, the band's reputation for no-skip records — and for wickedly fun live shows — has established it as one of the era’s true winners.
All the while, Less Than Jake’s members have found ways outside the band to insinuate themselves into punk’s very fabric. Fiorello cofounded record label Fueled by Ramen, spun off his interest as it grew into the behemoth it is today (it’s now a division of Warner Music Group and home to chart-toppers like Fall Out Boy, Fun., and Twenty One Pilots), and launched a second label, the mixed-media-focused Paper + Plastick, releasing scrappy punk and independent comic books. Lima produces records for small punk acts as well as his own outfit. They’re not just punk lifers; they’ve become an inseparable part of it.
Indeed, the lack of breakout success that must have seemed disappointing at the time has proven a blessing in disguise, as Less Than Jake has managed to elude the fickle audiences that come part and parcel with one-hit wonderdom, instead establishing itself as an album act with a real core following, one that still turns out in droves at a time when many bands of its era either scuffle to fill small rooms, play break-up-to-make-up bingo, or take turns on the Five Bands I Kinda Liked Once nostalgia tour merry-go-round.
Not that Less Than Jake is afraid to splash around in the nostalgia pond when the occasion calls for it. On Saturday and Sunday, the band comes to Fort Lauderdale’s Culture Room, part of a short tour run giving Losing Streak and Hello Rockview the full-album treatment in commemoration of the former’s 20th birthday. Less Than Jake promises one album each night “plus more” — at earlier dates on the tour, that’s meant encores full of cuts from albums like See the Light and 2003’s more rock-oriented Anthem. For the band’s longtime fans, it’s a chance to hear some rarely aired deep cuts from Less Than Jake’s most classic works; for newer fans (and there are plenty — Less Than Jake has become one of those rite-of-passage bands for young punks), it’s a chance to experience something they missed the first time around.
Last week, Warped Tour majordomo Kevin Lyman leaked the news that Less Than Jake will be returning to punk rock’s annual exploration of the nation’s amphitheater parking lots and dusty velds for the ninth(!) time. That tour — and, really, the entire punk-rock world — has evolved into something nearly unrecognizable from its roots. Compare the LTJ-sympatico tourmates from the band’s first run in 1997 (Blink-182, the Descendants, Pennywise, and Social Distortion, among others) with the types of acts it appeared alongside on its most recent excursion, in 2014: nu-metal revivalists Issues, pure-pop outfits the Ready Set and the Summer Set, and noxious metalcore mooks Falling in Reverse and Attila. The kids who came out in those early years are now the parents of kids with their own music, fashion, and culture.
Yet, Less Than Jake remains.
Less Than Jake
With Beebs and Her Money Makers and Fallen From the Sky (night one) and Quit and Fallen From the Sky (night two). Saturday and Sunday, March 19 and 20, 7 p.m. at the Culture Room, 3405 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale; 954-564-1074; cultureroom.com. Tickets $18 plus fees via ticketmaster.com.