New Jersey punk stalwarts the Bouncing Souls rocked the roof off New York City’s Highline Ballroom Wednesday, tearing through two incendiary sets comprised of their first two studio albums and setting the bar for another three sold-out nights performing the rest of their eight-album canon.
The gig was the latest on the band’s For All The Unheard tour, which features four-night stands in some of the group’s favorite cities playing two of their eight studio albums each night, in chronological order: The Good, The Bad & The Argyle (1994), Maniacal Laughter (1996), The Bouncing Souls (1997), Hopeless Romantic (1999), How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2001), Anchors Aweigh (2003), The Gold Record (2006) and Ghosts on the Boardwalk (2010).
For All The Unheard kicked off at Reggie’s in Chicago June 9 through 12 and ends in Los Angeles at the Troubadour Nov. 9 through 12. It includes stops in Boston, Philadelphia, London, Vienna and Denver. Wednesday’s first-night stand at the Highline Ballroom featured the classics The Good, The Bad & The Argyle and Maniacal Laughter.
True to form as one of the most energetic, lively and passionate live bands around, the Bouncing Souls—singer Greg Attonito, bassist Bryan “Papillon” Kienlan, guitarist Pete “The Pete” Steinkopf and drummer Michael McDermott (formerly of Murphy’s Law)—did not disappoint. They gave it their all, ripping through song after song as if their lives depended on it; full of concentrated fury, with little banter between tunes and smiling most of the way. The sold-out crowd ate it up—also true to form. Because another trademark of a Souls show is Souls fans. They’re literally part and parcel of the music, part and parcel of the experience.
Souls shows are in and of themselves shared experiences. Longtime friends meet up, sometimes not seeing each other since the last Souls gig. New friends discover each other. Everybody looks out for one another, even if you haven’t become friends just yet. In general, a large portion of the audience at punk rock shows is comprised of members of other bands infuenced by the acts onstage. Sure enough, members of Wiretap Crash, Death Spiral Financing, Playing Dead, Caffeine Hangover, Shitty Yoda and several other groups were eyed causing varying degrees of ruckus throughout the night. Also spotted were members of The Slack Pack, a group of Long Island independent filmmakers who shot the feature-length The Freaks, Nerds & Romantics (named after a Souls song and featuring cameos by Kienlan and Steinkopf).
“And in this corner…” he boomed. “Responsible for launching countless toilets off the roof, the Bouncing Souls.” [Or something like that. I scribbled the quotes on the palm of my hand. By the end of the show, having fended for my life up against the stage and with a few chance encounters within the mosh pit, they were indecipherable about three songs into the first batch of tunes.]
Both Souls’ sets—performed before a projector screen backdrop of the two respective albums’ covers and a movie collage made by a friend of the band, said Kienlan—were punctuated by sing-a-longs from the entire 700-person capacity ballroom during certain cuts; with nearly every song featuring at least the majority belting them out in unison.
The Good, The Bad & The Argyle—its first track being the cult favorite “I Like Your Mom”—lit the fuse, immediately sparking a massive sing-a-long [hard not to with lyrics “I like your mom/And it’s no fad/I want to marry her and be your dad”] as the center of the room in front of the stage parted like the Red Sea into a massive mosh pit of about 50 or 60 people. Arms and fists flailed wildly. Fans shoved and pushed and elbowed, dashing across the newborn clearing. Crowd-surfers and stage-divers appeared out of thin air—kicking and twisting their way onto the stage and leaping back into the sea of sweat and melodies.
Some had their own styles. One frequent diver, a bare-chested, highly tattooed punk I’m guessing was more than 200 pounds would pause for a brief second onstage before literally swan diving back atop our heads, folding his hands together like a professional diver before a race, a tip to sailing etiquette and an important head’s up not to drop him when he barreled back into our collarbones. One light, short punk girl with jet-black dyed hair kicked and hit with indifference each and every time she was passed to the front (probably about two dozen or more trips in all). Perhaps in protest, perhaps coincidence, a punk with a mohawk immediately to my right dropped her upside-down into a stage speaker; her tailbone smashing into its metal casing. She lay crumpled at the feet of Attonito for several seconds before springing back to life and missiling again into the crowd. Another lightweight girl tossed onstage lay paralyzed, squealing, with her skirt peeled back to nearly her nose—before collapsing back into the melee.
Several divers and slam dancers, for a variety of reasons—whether by the hand of others or the ill-timed vaults of themselves—took nasty, pummeling spills and belly-flops onto the hardwood floor. Each time, milliseconds before it seemed the sheer weight of the masses would engulf them whole, swallow them up and crush them like a bug, the sea instead expanded. Arms and hands reached and dragged, thrusting them back to shoulder-level, like life vests buoying a capsized boater.
I don’t recall during what song [two glasses of rum, no ice, to maximize liquor content, having flooded my bloodstream by then], but I turned to my right to see a crowd-surfing punk in a wheelchair passed around by the crowd and hoisted up onto the stage just a few feet from me, where he wheeled himself alongside Attonito then off to the side behind Steinkopf. The band shared a brief smile and laugh and continued raging.
ONLY AT A SOULS SHOW.
“Old School,” “Neurotic,” “Inspection Station” and “Dead Beats” were standouts, crunched between crowd-pleaser covers The Strangelove’s “I Want Candy” and The Waitresses’ “I Know What Boys Like.”
Personal favorite “These Are The Quotes From Our Favorite 80s Movies,” with the classic line “Where’s my two dollars?!” was sublime.
Sweaty, jubilant and fired up, the house caught a gasp of air during a brief intermission before the Souls came out again, launching spontaneously into the first cut off Maniacal Laughter, another cult favorite, “Lamar Vannoy.” The ballroom quickly descended back into chaotic, joyous hell—devastatingly thunderous takes on “The BMX Song” [featuring the lyrics “If I had money I’d buy a new BMX;” they used to ride them to gigs back in the day] and “Here We Go” casting the place into total punk mayhem respite with unified voices of celebrated angst.
No encore, though Dave Hause of The Loved Ones did join the Souls onstage to finish off the set.
As Kienlan handed out leftover bottles of water to dehydrated fans and the crowd dispersed through the ballroom doors, down the stairway and out into the equally swampy air of West 16th Street, an announcer again took to the microphone. But he wasn’t wearing a suit or ringing a boxing bell.
“We have a checkbook up here,” he said. “If anybody lost their checkbook, come up to the stage.”
People looked around, some laughing, some in disbelief. A friend of mine made a bee-line for the stage; it was his, dislodged from his pocket and lost while he was battering-rammed in the ferociousness of the pit.
Not sure what was more unbelievable: the fact that someone brought a checkbook to a punk rock show, or the fact that that someone, after losing it in a sea of punks, actually got it back.
Again—ONLY AT A SOULS SHOW.
Bouncing Souls: 1. New York City: 0.