Fresh off their latest European tour, the ska punk band returns home to Gainesville to host its 6th annual Wake N Bake Weekend at High Dive and other downtown venues.
The 25th anniversary of Less Than Jake came and went this summer without much fanfare. The band was too busy doing what it’s always done best: playing music for its die-hard fans around the world.
Less Than Jake spent the early part of August skipping across Europe, performing before enthusiastic crowds in Belgium, Slovenia, Austria, Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands.
“We started the tour with The Offspring at a music festival in Belgium with 30,000 to 40,000 people in a stadium,” said Chris DeMakes, Less Than Jake’s lead vocalist and guitarist. “A few nights later we’re in Hungary playing on some boat with 600 people. That’s kind of our career. We’ve been all over the place.”
Now it’s Less Than Jake’s chance to return to its Gainesville roots for the sixth annual Wake N Bake Weekend based at High Dive. On Friday night, Less Than Jake headlines a show that also includes Radon, Savage Brewtality and The Mermers. On Saturday, Less Than Jake performs along with Inner Circle, Coffee Project and Propaganjah.
Doors open at 8 p.m. each day, with the music beginning at 9. Tickets range from $16 in advance (through ticketfly.com) to $20 at the door. (High Dive’s outdoor beer garden will open at 3 p.m. Saturday for viewing the Florida-Michigan football game.)
A quarter-century after Less Than Jake’s inauspicious debut in downtown Gainesville, DeMakes still has fond memories of that mid-July day in 1992 at a venue on North Main Street now known as the Atlantic.
“It was called Club Velvet at the time,” he said. “Some guys we knew ran punk shows out of there. There was nothing in the building then. There was plumbing, but the bathroom’s were filthy. The bar was cinder blocks with a piece of plywood over the top and they had a keg back there. It was a dollar for a cup of beer. I don’t even know if it was legal for the place to be open. We played with Radon, which is playing at Wake N Bake. It was summer so there weren’t many students in town. Maybe 15 to 20 people were there.”
DeMakes said his bandmates — drummer Vinnie Fiorello and guitarist Roger Lima — had been practicing for awhile when someone in Radon suggested the bands have a gig together. The band has already settled on the name Less Than Jake in honor of Fiorello’s spoiled dog who was treated better than the rest of the household (everything was “less than Jake).”
Within a year, the band released its first record, Smoke Spot. Its first album, Pezcore, was released in 1995. Now the band has eight studio albums to its credit. Early this year, Less Than Jake released a seven-song LP titled “Sound the Alarm.” The band expects to go back in the studio later this year or early 2018 to record a ninth album.
To DeMakes, now 43, the past 25 years have flown by.
“I can go year by year and tell you everything we did, but at the same time it’s like a blur,” he said. “It’s hard to explain. I still feel like I’m 18. It also feels like it’s gone by a lot quicker than what your mind tells you 25 years should be.
“I look in the mirror and go ‘What the hell happened?'”
Less Than Jake still tours like a band in their 20s, which is a source of pride for the band.
“We never left the road,” DeMakes said. “We’re pretty picky about maintaining the presence of a band, so to speak, so we really never took any time off. It’s been a slow and steady race.”
The Wake N Bake Weekend gives Less Than Jake an opportunity to return home, but not necessarily to rest.
In addition to the two nights of concerts, the band is committed to VIP appearances Friday evening at Loosey’s and Saturday afternoon at the Heartwood Soundstage. There’s also a FEST Wrestling show at Eight Seconds on Sunday.
“There’s a lot to pack in over the weekend and, in typical Less Than Jake fashion, it seems we have our backs up against the wall coming off tour and heading into this,” DeMakes said. “We love it! We get to do two hometown shows in a row and there’s people who fly in from all over the U.S. and world. They’ve all become great friends. Pretty much they all met through the band, so it’s pretty cool.”
Unlike many bands, Less Than Jake doesn’t mind getting to meet its fans up close and personal.
“I don’t think any other band — and I don’t say this to sound egotistical — at our level of popularity has this kind of hands-on approach,” DeMakes said. “This is us hanging out with fans all weekend. It’s the accessibility of us, it’s the fans who are there who have all made friends with each other, they all keep in contact with each other. It’s just one big party.”
And then there’s the music itself. When Less Than Jake takes the stage, the energy level skyrockets.
Pat Lavery, who books concerts at High Dive through his Glory Days Presents, said Less Than Jake’s success is no accident.
“For one, they are an incredibly hard-working and consistent touring band,” he said “They are touring globally all the time. Second, well-done, honest songwriting that speaks to fans of a lot of different types of music — rock, punk, ska, reggae, pop. The band reinvents themselves while staying close to their roots. Third, they are very personable and care about their fans.”
Lavery has been doing shows for Less Than Jake for a dozen years now, including all six Wake N Bake Weekends. He said they are easily one of the best bands to emerge from Gainesville’s vibrant music scene.
“As far as popularity and success go, I think basically there is Tom Petty on one level and then there is the group of bands that came out of the ’90s and early 2000s: Less Than Jake, Hot Water Music, Against Me,” he said. “They are all on pretty equal footing, though HWM doesn’t tour much anymore.
“These guys [Less Than Jake] have done pretty damn well for themselves, and I am grateful to have been able to have been part of it in even the smallest way.”
DeMakes said that Less Than Jake will do everything to please its most loyal fans this weekend.
“You can expect the usual insanity,” DeMakes said. “It’s what you don’t know that’s gonna happen is what makes our shows fun and entertaining. I can guarantee one thing: We’re gonna sweat our asses off. High Dive is one of the hottest venues I’ve been to in my life. You cram all those people in a room that small and it’s gonna heat up pretty quick.”
Less Than Jake would have it no other way.
“It’s a perfect venue for us,” he said. “It’s intimate, but at the same time it serves its purpose. There’s no place to hide at the High Dive. You’re exposed the whole time. I think that’s part of the charm of the weekend.”
In return, High Dive pulls out all the stops, according to Lavery.
“It’s a special weekend for us, one of our favorite and most important of the whole year,” he said. “Every year we have drink specials that the band comes up with, including the signature Wake N Bake drink (cold brew coffee from a local brewery — this year Opus — Jameson and Irish Creme) and Pez Punch (named after one the band’s favorite collectibles).”
As a special touch, all drinks are served in special Wake N Bake Weekend commemorative cups that the band designs.
Meanwhile, DeMakes is looking forward to the Wake N Bake Weekend — and beyond.
“Life is good, man,” he said. “I’ve been telling people that I’m probably having more fun with the band now than I did in the early days. With age, you begin to appreciate things a little bit more. At least I do.”
— Noel Leroux