Aug. 22 and 23 brought Philadelphia two shows celebrating punk pioneers the Bouncing Souls’ 20th anniversary. While they’ve always been a New Jersey band through and through, the band has plenty of history in nearby Philly, not to mention the Trocadero, which hosted the concerts. Saturday saw support from 7 Seconds and None More Black, while Sunday, the night I attended, brought in Lifetime and former Avail frontman Tim Barry. From all accounts, it didn't matter which show you hit up; you were still in for a good time.
Both shows sold out, and rightly so. As I’ve written here before, the Souls are one of the most important punk bands of everything everywhere ever (ever!). They've been making people dance since I was three years old. They’ve hit a point in their careers where it doesn't even matter what they play, only that they do play. Surrounded by friends and fans (members of Paint It Black, the Loved Ones and who knows who else were in attendance), Philly made the perfect setting for the group’s birthday bash Sunday night.
Unfortunately, things didn’t start off too smoothly. The show began with a screening of the Bouncing Souls 20th Anniversary Special, a retro variety program featuring performance footage, ventriloquism and the Boogietron 5000. It was chock full of the band’s weird sense of humor, though watching the film proved a little difficult given all the noise from the balcony bar. The same issue applied to acoustic opener Tim Barry. He didn’t seem to care, though, as he soon unplugged his guitar and leapt into the crowd for a rendition of “Idle Idlyst” among his faithful. The crowd dug performances of “Ronnie Song” and “Dog Bumped.” He also took the time to berate his home of Richmond, VA for building portions of I-95 over slave cemeteries, which was informatively infuriating.
After Barry, sound problems were non-existent. Rather, Lifetime brought a new challenge: guitar straps. See, guitarist Dr. Dan Yemin has a thing for rocking out, and his strap came undone quite a few times during the band’s succulent set. They started with “Daneurysm” and closed with “Ostrichsized,” filling the in-between with a good mix of songs from Hello Bastards, Jersey’s Best Dancers and Lifetime. Oh, and broken straps. Frontman Ari Katz teased Yemin a bit about his technical difficulties, but when a fan threw in some extra grief about buying a strap lock, Yeems let out some of his trademark sarcastic bile: “Strap locks are for Iron Maiden,” he said. “…Punks use duct tape.” And true to his word, he did. It’s not like the strap-capades negatively affected Lifetime’s set that much anyway. Songs like “The Boy’s No Good,” “Rodeo Clown,” “Northbound Breakdown” and “Airport Monday Morning” were still awesome.
But as good as Lifetime was, there was an even better group waiting to cap off the night. Emerging to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s “Born to Run,” the Bouncing Souls plugged in and proceeded to deliver the perfect 90-minute set. Granted, I say that as a super-fan. Dudes were the first punk band I really fell in love with, the source of my high school year book quote (“I’m on the outside looking in / That’s where my story beings / Took the pain of growing up / And I will walk on through / This is how I’m showing up / I feel great / How ’bout you.” Thanks of asking!!), and just generally a source of joy and inspiration in a genre that tends to eat its own. But that’s a tangent. I’m sorry. Let it go and focus on how good Sunday’s set list was, OK?
If you were a fan of the Souls’ older material, this would’ve been a good show for you. 1994’s The Good, The Bad, and the Argyle got a lot of love via “I Like Your Mom,” “These Are the Quotes from Our Favorite ’80s Movies” (complete with an Outsiders “We’ll do it for Johnny!” reference from a fan), “Joe Lies (When He Cries)” and “Neurotic.” Yeah, that happened. 1996’s Maniacal Laughter made some appearances in the set, with “The Freaks, Nerds, & Romantics,” “The BMX Song,” “Quick Check Girl,” “Here We Go” and a jammed out “Moon Over Asbury.” “Moon” segued nicely into a slower, new song that I was unfamiliar with. The Bouncing Souls weighed in with “Cracked,” “East Coast Fuck You!”, “Say Anything” and a particularly awesome “Kate Is Great.” Sadly, my cries for “Shark Attack” went unanswered.
Some newer material did show up as well. “Lean on Sheena” was the lone track from The Gold Record, while Hopeless Romantic’s title track did the same. Anchors Aweigh scored “Sing Along Forever,” the title track and a fan-requested “Apartment 5F.” How I Spent My Summer Vacation’s “Private Radio,” “That Song” and “The Something Special” rocked the set list, along with set opener “True Believers” and encore-ender “Gone.” Oddly enough, outside of “I Think That the World” and maybe that new song, nothing from the band’s 20th anniversary single series showed up.
That’s a lot of songs -- 25 by my count, and I’m working from memory. But in the moment, it barely felt like a half-hour, let alone 90 minutes or so. Which is perhaps the biggest compliment I could give the Souls -- dudes played a lengthy set that was so much fun, I completely lost track of time. I was too busy watching frontman Greg Attonito shake around in his suit while bassist Brian Keilen and guitarist Pete Steinkopf tore at their instruments. Drummer Michael McDermott seemed to lead the charge in tweaking the band’s back catalog, switching up fills and extending songs, most memorably during “Moon Over Asbury.” The result was a fine blend of something old and something new which eradicated all sense of time (and temperature. It was pretty dang humid in the Troc).
Despite logging 20 years in punk rock, the Bouncing Souls show felt more like the beginning of a new chapter than the conclusion of an old one. The band sold advance copies of 20th Anniversary Series Volume Three, their newest seven-inch [SPOILER ALERT: IT'S GOOD]. They hinted at holiday shows and plans to learn new covers. Representatives from the Syrentha Savio Endowment passed out literature about cancer prevention and sold very cool “fuck cancer” shirts. So while it’s incredible to look back on those 20 years of music -- yes, even the Greenball Crew EP -- I can’t help but look forward to what comes next.