The Bouncing Souls remind me of being 17 years old. Their songs lend themselves to maximum volume sing-alongs. They’re the kind of songs that make you grab strangers around the shoulders like you’ve known them all your life. They’re the kind of songs that make you think that music is the only thing that matters in the world. I have a whole lot of nostalgia associated with this band (they are one of the universally acknowledged unfuckwithable punk bands of the ‘90s, after all), and it had been nearly five years since the last time I had seen them play live, so I was pretty stoked for this show. When I arrived at In the Venue, I was surprised to see that the show was taking place In the Venue’s smaller room. The last time I saw the Souls, it was a ridiculously crowded affair in the larger part of the venue, so I expected a rather large crowd again. The venue wasn’t too sparse, but still not very full when Luther brought their melodic brand of punk from Philadelphia to the stage. I had never heard of Luther before, but I was impressed by their energy and by the performances of both of their eerily similar-looking vocalists. Their bassist looked oddly out of place—his long black hair and entirely black garb (including a Black Tusk tee) made it seem that he had accidentally wandered onstage with the wrong band. In the middle of the set, the crowd was made aware that it was guitarist/vocalist Phil’s birthday, and we were reminded of it when not one but two pies were smashed into his face as he tried to sing one of the band’s songs. It was a fun set and the band got a good reaction from the crowd, setting the mood for the rest of the night.
The Menzingers took the stage next. I had seen them open for The Gaslight Anthem a few years ago, and while their style of pop-punk is a bit too nasally in the vocals for me, I appreciated their stage presence, especially the bassist’s jumps and jaunts across the stage. A surprisingly large number of Menzingers fans made themselves known in the crowd, as they sang along to the entire set—there were even a few stage dives! I still can’t get into the vocals, but the band’s energy is infectious, and they certainly got the crowd pumped up and ready to go nuts for the Bouncing Souls.
As soon as The Menzingers left the stage, the Bouncing Souls’ road crew emerged with a bass drum emblazoned with the cover art from the Souls’ latest album, Comet. The restless energy of the crow became more and more apparent as the sound check dragged on, and chants of “Ole, ole, ole!” broke out more than once. Finally, the band emerged and the crowd exploded. There was crowdsurfing and stagediving from the first song on, and as the band busted into one of my favorites, “Sing Along Forever,” I felt my fists involuntarily shoot into the air and my weird, squeaky voice belting out words that I wasn’t even sure I knew. Bodies were crashing into each other and sweat was flying, but it was a positive energy—all the tough guy bullshit that so easily pervades punk rock shows was entirely absent throughout the Souls’ entire set. And what a fucking set it was. They hit most of their hallmarks, including “Argyle,” “Say Anything,” “Kid,” “The Ballad of Johnny X” and “Kate is Great.” They even threw in some surprises like “Here We Go” and “East Coast Fuck You.” My personal highlights were “True Believers” (seriously, if you can listen to that song and not sign along at the top of your lungs, your life is empty) and “Lean on Sheena,” which is one of my favorite Bouncing Souls song despite it being a cover of Avoid One Thing. As the night drew to a close, vocalist Greg Attonito strapped on an acoustic guitar and the band closed out the night with “Ship in a Bottle” from their newest album, saying that it is the one song that really encompasses what the band is all about.
There were so many other good songs, and so many other moments that made the show such a fun experience. The Bouncing Souls really did take me back to the place where music was the most important thing in my life. It was exactly what I wanted out of a Bouncing Souls show. I was stoked to see so many young kids at the show who were just getting into the band. Angst and anger are a big, important part of punk rock, but The Bouncing Souls represent the part about punk rock that’s all about enjoying your life and the people that are in that. We need more of that shit. As long as this band is still around, I’ll keep going to see them play, and I’ll sing along forever.