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Punk Grows Up 

Less Than Jake survived the ska bust by never actually being a ska band

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This summer Less Than Jake played their 365th Warped Tour show.

"A lot of those other bands probably hadn't played 365 shows in their career," says Less Than Jake guitarist and vocalist Chris DeMakes of the mostly young roster of acts that populate the traveling punk-rock circus these days.

The pride of Gainesville, Florida, Less Than Jake began formulating their punk-meets-ska sound in 1992 and quickly drew a cult of fans thanks to a bombastic live show replete with confetti cannons, stage diving and frenetic, sweat-soaked band members who seemed fueled by an otherworldly energy source. When the ska wave hit in the mid-1990s, Less Than Jake rode the crest, even if less than half of their songs weren't necessarily ska music. When that wave crashed hard, most of those ska bands — anybody remember Skankin' Pickle? — faded into obscurity. Less Than Jake, on the other hand, soldiered on.

"Those bands who were ska bands, they painted themselves into a corner. I used to laugh at it when people called us ska. We never really thought about stuff like that," says DeMakes, who, in contrast to his shit-talking, joke-a-minute stage presence, is delightful when I catch him on the phone while he's visiting his mom, dad and 94-year-old grandmother about an hour from his own home in Tampa.

The late '90s and early aughts saw Less Than Jake go from a major-label hit with Hello Rockview to indie releases before returning to a major for 2003's Anthem, their least ska-influenced record, which featured a couple of minor radio hits, including "The Science of Selling Yourself Short." The sound fluctuated, but the relentlessly positive, life-sucks-sometimes-but-you'll-get-through-it message of drummer Vinnie Fiorello's lyrics remained. And that's part of the reason for the band's die-hard following.

"We didn't set out to do that, but it's happened. People come up to us and say that an album got them through a divorce or got them through high school when they were getting bullied," says DeMakes.

Less Than Jake released See the Light in November of 2013, which had the band recording back at bassist Roger Lima's home, just like the old days, for a record that sounds like a culmination of the sounds they've touched in their 22-year career. As for that wild live show, DeMakes, who just turned 40, says the guys can still bring it.

"As soon as it's go time, that reaction goes off. It's like putting a lot of chemicals in a test tube and letting it all blow up," he says. ♦

Less Than Jake with Big D and the Kids Table, the Interrupters • Tue, Oct. 7, at 7:30 pm • $19.50 • Knitting Factory • 919 W. Sprague •

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