Is it possible to quantify the excitement that is Bouncing Souls day? How many FB kitty pictures or limited edition vinyl records would it take to equal that much happiness? After getting through that adult chore known as “job”, I hurried home for a quick nap before meeting a few friends for some Sub Culture. Vegetarians, take note of their excellent selection as this has quickly become my favorite sandwich joint in town. Luckily, my friends and I were on the same page and got our meals to go so we could make sure to catch the start of the festivities, opened by one of Denver’s own, Synthetic Elements.
I walked through the door and affixed my wristband just as singer Todd McMullen introduced the band and launched into their set. I was super stoked that these guys got the local support slot since they’re one of Colorado’s longest-running and hardest-working bands. They always put on a great show, keeping the songs anthemic and danceable, the horns punchy and the energy high. Their style has morphed to a punk and rock band with horns over the years but they still throw in the upstrokes on occasion as a nod to their days as more of a ska-based 3rd wave band, as also evidenced by their choice to cover “Maggie Mae” by The Pietasters. Despite the early time slot, the crowd was peppered with dedicated fans eager to participate, sing along, and move around.
I caught Luther when they were in town last November with The Bouncing Souls as part of their “For All the Unheard” album shows. I recall generally liking their set, but, this time around, I couldn’t believe I was seeing the same band and found myself drawn in song after song. Power-punk with a heavy dose of rock ‘n roll emanated from the stage with their bassist, a stalwart figure center stage, keeping the low-end on lockdown in a Motorhead cutoff tee; his long black hair swaying in time with the drums. I found myself highly impressed with both guitarists as they traded well-developed guitar parts and vocals that blended perfectly into one warm, satisfying wall of garage rock tone and upbeat melody. Luther played an incredibly satisfying half hour, bringing around plenty of new fans during their short set.
The Menzingers have become one of my favorite bands to see live and I, along with everyone I came to the show with, are a giggling bunch of fanboys/girls for their songs. As soon as the lights dropped and Bill Paxton’s Independence Day speech began blaring from the PA, the first real surge from the crowd pushed toward the stage and everyone was clamoring for that first glimpse in the darkness of the boys from Scranton. The drums began to pound the intro to “I Can’t Seem to Tell” and the crowd was more than enthused to count off the song with Greg Barnett. I was a bit apprehensive to see The Menzingers in such a large room, but they certainly have gotten used to working venues this size and I still felt incredibly engaged. Tom May immediately began to bounce around the stage and his brazen look of joy was met with sublime smiles from Greg, which remained throughout their set. The song choices leaned heavily toward material from On the Impossible Past and Chamberlain Waits, which was certainly not a problem as the crowd sang loudly along the entire time. “Sunday Morning”, a set list audible called out by Greg, was the lone glimmer of “older” material and my friends and I belted out “Don’t worry brother, this will blow over” with our arms and voices raised high like mimics of ourselves during many previous car trips and parties. Another highlight, for me, was the bluesy rhythm of “Irish Goodbyes”, a somewhat lesser known track of theirs since it only seems to appear on the Mixed Signals compilation. Of course, I would have been pleased as punch if they had played longer, but they were just in town recently on their own tour so my cravings for the deep cuts had been, generally, satisfied. Mainly, I was just stoked to see a band so in their prime as live performers as main support for one of the bands that got me into punk music in the first place.
I cut my teeth on The Bouncing Souls, just like so many other impressionable East Coast youth. ’97 saw the release of their self-titled album on Epitaph and, since then, I’ve done my best to see them as much as possible, with this performance being my 16th or so (I think). As The Menzingers’ backdrop was flipped in exchange for the cover of the Souls’ latest album, Comet, the energy level immediately grew. The dance floor began to fill up to its largest capacity of the night and my group of friends and I did our best to carve out some space Stage Right, in front of Bryan’s stomping grounds. The feeling I get when The Bouncing Souls start playing results in such a release of elated energy that I had a hard time remembering that I’m in recovery from what doctors told me COULD be bronchitis. I started pogoing and spinning around the floor and the only time I stopped moving was for songs I generally knew less well off their last two albums but, even then, I found myself swaying with my girl and clap-clap clapping along with Michael McDermott’s infectious punk beats or raising my fist to The Pete’s ferocious guitar. Plus, it gave me a little time to catch my breath, wipe away some sweat and put my glasses back on to watch the band. Side note: I couldn’t find my Croakies before the show and I dropped my glasses FOUR different times and still managed to recover them unharmed. Such is the magic of The Bouncing Souls!
Despite having just seen them play pretty much ALL their music last winter, I still found myself enthralled in the performance. Greg Attonito will always be one of the most aloof frontmen of all time and his irreverent attitude toward performing always makes me chuckle. The quartet slayed song after song, each punctuated by images and movies of space, cityscapes and other footage displayed on CRT televisions on both sides of the stage. At one point, I recall seeing clips from Say Anything and Pretty in Pink. They didn’t play “These Are The Quotes From Our Favorite ‘80s Movies” but it was a fun homage to anyone who understood the reference.
The crowd’s enthusiasm for this iconic band is almost more important than the songs themselves. Their lyrics, album after album, always manage to push right to the core of any emotion I may be feeling, from ebullient highs to crushing defeats. As such, I seize any opportunity to wrap my arms around those most important in my life while reveling in these great songs. For instance, I was at the show with my girlfriend’s roommate who I met, briefly and anonymously, years prior at Red Rocks when the Souls played there. A drumstick was thrown into the crowd and I told her she could keep it if she was closer to the band than my home state of Maryland. She’s from Jersey, so I kinda had to give it to her (plus, I’m usually not a dick to a pretty girl over band memorabilia). Here we were, years later, screaming “East Coast, FUCK YOU!!!” at the top of our lungs, now inextricably linked through our passion for this music and my lovely lady friend.
The room went black at the end of “Comet” and, shortly thereafter, the band retook the stage. The backdrop changed again to more of a sunrise scene, a take on the Comet album cover, and the lights shined brightly out into the crowd as they began their encore. It was a rad touch. So far, the night had been filled with celebration of an immense and lauded catalog so I was completely unprepared for the tears that welled in my eyes as the Souls began to play “Gone”, which Greg dedicated to the victims of the shooting in Aurora the previous week. This would have been a powerful enough moment on its own but I had also found out the day before the show that a friend of mine had suddenly passed away. A testament to the power of their music and to the musical experience in general, I reeled with the lyrics and sang out for all of my lost friends and for those I never knew. “Gone” was followed by, and the show concluded with, one final backdrop change; this time to a ship in a bottle to accompany the song of the same name.
Later that evening, as the sweat dried on my skin and the boys from Luther crashed out around my house, I held my girl close in the darkness and took a moment to reflect on what The Bouncing Souls and the music community of Denver mean to me. Over the years, as both a musician and concert-goer, I’ve been embraced by so many amazing people through our shared love of the visceral experience that punk music brings out in each of us. We sweat, we laugh, we sing our favorite songs and we leave interconnected with one another through one of the oldest forms of human expression. I owe my life to penned words and distorted guitars. In the esteemed wisdom of Bill & Ted, “be excellent to each other” and I’ll see ya, next time, in the pit.
Follow: @BouncingSoulsNJ @TheMenzingers @666Luther666 @SyntheticBand