Here is a great pun that’s never been written: Bowling For Soup played a 300 game at the TLA in Philly tonight. No? Let’s try this one: Bowling For Soup’s Philly show was a real lucky strike! Not that one either? Fuck it, I’ll come back to it.
I would be horribly remiss not to first mention the two high-octane power punk acts that kicked us off tonight and effectively rolled out a flaming red carpet for their headliners. Direct Hit!, out of Milwaukee, played with the kind of frantic, almost manic energy that sets your teeth on edge and makes you want to do something irrational, maybe leap off a skyscraper in a blaze of glory because you truly believe that the pavement would bounce you back up to safety. Guitarist Devon Kay is impossible to ignore, his animated playing style in a perfect marriage with the vicious vocal stylings of Nick Woods. Their effervescence was a blanket over the room, spreading even to the elderly woman a few feet away from me, decked out in a modest floral blouse and glasses. I watched her eye her surroundings warily during the preshow, and I saw her sticking close to her companion (husband?) during Direct Hit!’s driving opener. Halfway through the set, though, when Woods asked who in the room “worshipped Satan,” her scream was the loudest near me. I watched her bounce and headbang through all of “Satan Says” and the remainder of their set, and though I’ll never know whether she was there as a punk fan or a chaperone, I like to think she went home and at least followed the band on Spotify. Direct Hit!: even your grandma’s a fan.
LA’s Runaway Kids are livewires in their own right. Their rambling, urgent lyricism and unorthodox song structure are a welcome reminder of classic thrash acts like Suicidal Tendencies. Vocalist Gage Armstrong let us know right away that he had something to talk about, an important topic that needed to be addressed without delay: “these overalls I’m wearing.” Nine nights on tour in those very same overalls, he told us, with no shortage of teasing from bassist Korey Keeton. Armstrong has a cool charisma about him that seems to be unique to California frontmen, a level-headedness that still manages to draw you in, keep you amped up through ragers like “No Direction.” Every time he commanded the crowd to open up that all-too-familiar circle, I was genuinely shocked not to see the entire room moshing vigorously. Beyond the overalls, there was a crystal clear message playing out over the course of their set: fuck D*n*ld Tr*mp, fuck anyone who’s ever looked down on or refused to believe in their music, and if you’re in league with any of the above, fuck you, too. (If you were wondering, I lost track of grandma during this set, but I bet she loved it.)
There’s something to be said for bands and artists who aren’t afraid of their catalog or its commercial successes. Bowling For Soup are one such act, making a point to play the hits that we all know and love because “we’re no Foreigner.” (This was later amended to Foghat and/or Journey, lest someone print the quote with a lowercase ‘F’ and embroil the band in controversy.) As such, despite the tour sharing a very clever name with their most recent release, Drunk Dynasty, their set list contained only one tune from the album. (“Hey Diane,” if you were wondering. Listen to it! Buy the album!) Someone near me repeatedly requested “Don’t Be a Dick,” and I secretly wished he would have taken his own advice. Bowling For Soup kept my attention pinnedor a soup-er (nailed it!) hour and a half. Their set was the true definition of a well-oiled machine, packed not only with hits, but hilarious banter and well-placed gags like “In-Between Set Surfing,” a ditty about, you guessed it, crowd-surfers catching waves between songs. In the spirit of not shying away from commercial success, and maybe even a little bit of self-deprecation, they fed us not only the true classics (“Punk Rock 101,” “Almost,” “My Wina”), but their anthemic Phineas + Ferb theme song and even “Stacy’s Mom,” which we all spent our middle school years telling people was absolutely, unequivocally not their song. If they played the same list every night, we wouldn’t have known it: they seemed to be having as good a time as we were, if not even better. Chris Burney, whose impressive beard deserves its own review, is a fan of holding his guitar up and aiming the neck at the crowd like a sniper rifle. I lost count of how many times he did it, but never once stopped finding it funny. Truly, there is not a better metaphor for seeing a Bowling For Soup show: no matter how many times you’ve heard Jaret Reddick crooning about high school girls and punk rock, you’re still guaranteed to have a blast.
At some point during their set, Reddick mentioned that this coming June will be the band’s 23rd anniversary, to which Burney suggested that they throw themselves a funny hat party. If last night’s show was any indication, I think I’d love an invite to that shindig. I’d probably be willing to even mildly embarrass myself to get one. So happy early anniversary, Bowling For Soup, and if you’re reading this: call me.
The Bitch Song
Ohio (Come Back to Texas)
High School Never Ends
Today Is Gonna Be A Great Day (Phineas + Ferb theme)
The Last Rock Show
Punk Rock 101
Stacy’s Mom (Fountains of Wayne cover)
Since We Broke Up
Shut Up and Smile
Girl All the Bad Guys Want