Bong Mountain/The Brokedowns - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Bong Mountain / The Brokedowns

Live in Grand Rapids (2019)

live show

On March 2nd, for the second Saturday night in a row, I found myself at 741 on the Westside of Grand Rapids taking in a stacked punk bill. (Maybe this is my midlife crisis. I can’t really afford to buy a sports car, divorce my wife and run off with a younger woman, so I guess going to more punk shows will have to suffice.) This time around the headliner was local favorites Bong Mountain, and they brought Chicago suburbanites The Brokedowns along for the ride. We arrived a couple of minutes after the 10 pm start time, only to discover that the music hadn’t started yet. I swear that the older I get, the less tolerance I have for punk time.

We watched the opening band, Pansy, noodling around on stage for quite a while before the finally kicked things off just before 10:30. Pansy are a very young quartet that play music inspired by ‘90s alt rock and grunge. This seems to be trend. A lot of younger bands seem to be aping a retro style that peaked before they were born. Maybe that’s what happens when your parents’ record collection is full of Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. The female guitarist handled the vast majority of the vocals, and the songs tended to be layered and complex. Pansy wasn’t bad, and I enjoyed the weird stuff the second guitarist was doing. They will likely get better as their confidence increases.

Boob Sweat was a pleasant surprise. I would most simply describe them as a feminist three chord punk trio. Their simple, angry but funny but serious songs translated well in a live setting. The female bassist and guitarist traded vocal duties on memorable songs like “Madison Avenue” and “Tamp-Off!”. Their sped up cover of the Avril Lavigne hit “Complicated” also went over well. The guitar player looked like she was having so much fun that it was almost contagious. Their 15 minute set really hit the spot, and almost got things back on track timewise.

Believe it or not, this was the first time The Brokedowns had ever played in Michigan. This seems shocking considering that they’ve been around for more than 15 years, and GR is only a three hour drive. (Even Detroit is only five.) Anyway, we were glad to finally have them. For those of you who don’t know, these guys are really funny. Their songs are funny and bitter, but live they’re just flat out funny. They especially enjoyed skewering Tim Allen (and cocaine) and the Pure Michigan tourism campaign from a few years back. It was good stuff. They were also impressed by the fact that recreational marijuana is legal in the state. You could definitely smell its presence.

People were crammed in pretty tight in front of the stage for The Brokedowns. They rewarded the faithful by playing a bunch of songs from last year’s excellent Sick of Space, along with some slightly older favorites like “Life is a Breeze” and “Joliet, the Maui of the Midwest”. They even took it in good stride when empty PBR cans started flying at them with pretty regular frequency. They seemed to savor the entire experience. I would have to say that The Brokedowns’ first MI appearance was a big hit. There were clearly a lot of folks enjoying it, and I hope they won’t stay away for long.

Bong Mountain came on about 12:30, and the crowd was still in full force. While BM is a local band, they’re smart enough not to play locally too often. Their shows are still kind of an event. They’re at a strange level of success, and have reached a certain level of national recognition. They’ve played The Fest, Pouzza Fest, toured in Hawaii and Australia, put out a great record, and are set to tour Europe this summer. Ultimately, Bong Mountain succeed because they write catchy, sincere songs that have a real knack for tapping into the human condition.

Their 35 minute set was a bit sloppy, a bit disheveled and completely engaging. The band played favorites like “Pariah Carey”, “Why You So Short” and “26 Caroline” from You’re Doin’ Great! (for the record). Microphones were passed around for drunken, swaying sing alongs. People hugged and said that they loved each other. In other words, it was a typical Bong Mountain gig. Most importantly, they played three very promising sounding new songs. Many of us have been waiting patiently for a new album, and it seems like 2019 is finally the year. I know I’m not the only one really looking forward to it.

Confessions of a merch whore: I finally got a physical copy of Sick of Space (2018), and also picked up a copy of the Brokedowns/Direct Hit! split 7” Making a Midwesterner (2016).