To an apathetic audience, hard-rocking punk bands may as well have been playing polka. The crowd’s sheer lethargy was a challenge to Midtown and The Bouncing Souls. In an effort to hone in on punk show activities, mosh pit formation and skanking attempts were made by concert-goers, who were clearly incapable of doing either.
The show openers, The Loved Ones, were not originally slated for the concert. The band opened with a few unknown songs from its EP, due out in February, which fell on a silent, half-filled Goldstein Auditorium. The Loved Ones' members have been jamming together since May and recently signed with the label Jade Tree.
The band seemed disconnected, unable to communicate with each other, and had little interaction with each other or with the audience. Their songs were received with barely audible golf claps. The lead singer/guitarist Dave Hausse and the bassist Michael “Spider” Cotterman seemed to be playing in two different concerts. Hausse played with sweat dripping down his face, veins pulsating in his neck, and occasionally pulled at his hair during especially emotional moments. Cotterman donned a collared-shirt that remained dry throughout the show, and looked more at his fingers than at the audience. Meanwhile, drummer Mike Sneeringer was left slamming his drum kit in peace.
Midtown stormed the stage with more hair by volume than people. The three-way harmonizing and intimate dynamics between lead singer and bassist Gabe Saporta and guitarists and vocalists Heath Saraceno and Tyler Rann easily drew the audience into the show. Drummer Rob Hitt was left largely to his own devices throughout the show. Hitt resembled a supermodel with his long, slick, straight hair blowing in the breeze of a steel fan, perched at his feet.
The band delivered the requisite pro-voting, anti-Bush speech made by most liberal punk bands in the U.S. Before they played “Help Me Sleep” from its 2004 album Forget What You Know, Saporta yelled, “Fuck Bush.” He encouraged audience members to raise their fuck-fingers and join in. After the slower “Is it Me? Is it True?” Saporta blew a kiss to guitarist Rann. The band’s intimate and enthusiastic interactions with each other and the audience rallied the small crowd and carried the concert.
The audience members were not participatory and rarely sang along with Saporta. This was probably because the New Jersey rockers primarily played songs from Forget What You Know, which may have come out too recently for many audience members to learn the songs. The upshot of having an embarrassingly small audience was that guitar picks were generously distributed to all who attended.
The Bouncing Souls entered the auditorium after Midtown to a thinned and indifferent crowd. During the band’s first song “The Something Special,” from 2001’s How I Spent My Summer Vacation, the audience was more interested in their personal conversations than the band. Singer Greg Attonito, bassist Bryan “Papillion” Kienlen, guitarist Pete Steinkopf (better know as “The Pete”), and drummer Michael McDermott have been playing together for 15 years, a fact that rings true in their maturing and developing punk sound. With their maturation also came a mastery of songwriting and an exploration of more meaningful subject matter.
The New Jersey foursome was able to make do with a lagging audience and lame attempts to crowd surf. Attonito begged the audience to “give me a reason to yell.” When they launched into their version of the anti-Bush sermon, the birthday-celebrating Kienlen declared, “Every song is an anti-Bush song.”
To pacify screams from the crowd, among the few heard throughout the entire night, the granddaddies of punk played their oldest favorite “Joe Lies (When he Cries),” from their 1997 album The Good The Bad And The Argyle. McDermott, scantily clad in his cave behind the drum set, contrasted with band-mate Attonito, who took the more conservative button-down approach.