IN THE BEGINNING ... there was ska. The ultra-hip child of Jamaican folk and calypso percussion sprinkled with American jazz and R&B influences, it quickly became the fast-paced, quick-time, less-stoned cousin of reggae.
It spread from the islands to American hipsters and the Western European modernist club scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s faster than you can say, "Rastafari."
By the mid 1970s, a few bored British mod kids, who would later gain fame in bands like The Specials and Madness, had the great idea of mixing ska with punk rock and, voila, the second wave known as 2 Tone was born.
Over the next decade, the beats would get faster, the guitarists would shred harder and before you knew it Reel Big Fish, along with peers like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Operation Ivy, had manufactured ska's more hardcore third wave.
In truth, with the exception of the occasional bold walking bass, the first and third waves of ska bear little resemblance to each other. The bass lines that were the cornerstone of Jamaican ska have long since been buried under a rush of guitar cacophony and lyrics spit out so fast that listeners need closed captioning to follow. Both styles are entertaining, however, and no one has more fun with pseudo-ska than Reel Big Fish.
Originally RBF were up-and-coming radio stars out of Huntington Beach, Calif., scoring a major radio hit with the brass-heavy skiffling beat of "Sell Out" in 1996. As mainstream interest in ska started to wane, however (blame Eminem and Kid Rock for that), follow-up singles failed to garner as much attention. Rather than fade into one-hit wonder obscurity, however, the group instead has existed on a steady diet of heavy touring and with entertaining tweaks on rock 'n' roll standards.
Their skank-beat cover of A-ha's "Take On Me" is great fun and requires no falsetto to sing the chorus. Other covers to scream for at Reel Big Fish's Saturday show at Verizon Wireless Theater include Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," "Ask" originally by The Smiths and (my personal favorite) "It's Not Easy" taken from the not-so-classic '70s Disney film, Pete's Dragon.
Reel Big Fish, 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Verizon Wireless Theater