Words and Photos by Patrick Gilrane
Arriving in Asbury Park, I can already see that the town’s packed with people, some going to the beach, others to the bars and restaurants, and some like myself – here to hang with The Bouncing Souls at The Stone Pony. This time of year, Souls fans come from far and wide to join in the annual “Stoked for Summer” show, but this year it’s much more than that. Tonight, the Pony is packed with rowdy, die-hard Souls fans that came to celebrate the bands 30th anniversary.
First, let’s get something out of the way. All conversation about the Jersey punk scene starts and ends with the Souls. This is a band that got its start playing basement and yard shows as kids in the late ’80s, and over time developed into the powerhouse punk foursome, they are today. The funny part is that I don’t think any of this was planned; it was simply a natural progression. IMHO the Souls are one of those bands that never chased fame & fortune; they simply just did what they did, without any apologies and on their own terms. The Souls make music that’s light-hearted, fast and hard-driving but have seemed to hang on to the essence of the early days, which was all about having fun. Don’t get me wrong, the Souls are a very talented group of guys, but I think the key to their success has always been not taking themselves too seriously, just simply doing what they do.
As part of their 30th anniversary as a band, the Souls released an EP (and book) called “Crucial Moments.” The EP has six songs and represents everything we’ve come to love about the Souls, specifically their high-energy bouncy sonic delivery. The book, on the other hand, chronicles Souls history over the past 30 years and feature’s photos and words by the band’s archivist Josh Casuccio and Chris Napolitano, who truly do a great job at documenting the band’s history throughout the years, cementing their rightful legacy in New Jersey musical history.
By the time the Souls took the stage, the venue was packed with diehard fans ready to throw down, and it didn’t take long with the band starting their set with “Hopeless Romantic.” As I watched the crowd of almost six thousand strong sing along, I got the impression that this was more of a dysfunctional, crazy family reunion of sorts rather than just a show. The band worked through a few songs including favs like “Kate is Great,” Here We Go” and “Cracked” before taking a short break and coming back for a few unplugged. The band created a very intimate setting, sitting up close to the crowd and engaging in a bit of back and forth banter. Watching things unfold, I surprisingly felt a bit emotional watching this group of guys who even after 30 years of being together seemed so close and comfortable with each other, like they were truly sharing an important moment. The band gave the crowd a nice surprise, ending the unplugged session with “For All the Unheard,” the horn section of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones providing a memorable sonic backdrop.
The Souls continued the set, weaving a path through their history via their fast-paced, no time for rest musical delivery, driving the crowd to sing, surf and get that circle pit going. As the night went on the band covered all their classic, timeless songs like “East Coast! Fuck You!” Kid,” Kids and Heroes,” and “Manthem” to name a few. With a hard 10:30 curfew looming and the band leaving the stage the encore was next.
As the band returned to the stage, I couldn’t help but think what a special night this was, both for the band and their fans, who make the pilgrimage each year for this event. The band finished with a banging four-song encore that included Joe Gittleman of the Bosstones providing vocals for “Lean on Sheena,” which was really rad since he’s the author of the song, “Lamar Vannoy,” True Believers” and “Night on Earth.” The Souls always bring their “A” game to this show, and it was truly a great night out with our Jersey punk family.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are a really unique band that incorporates a few different dimensions to achieve their distinct personality. Being from Boston, this is an old school band that drags us back to a time of true entertainers, not just singers, and guitar players. The Bosstones took the stage wearing hot pink suit jackets with black pants, creating visual spectacle as they jumped into “Dr. D,” Ben Carr’s dance moves waking up the crowd. Watching this band reminds me of the old school big band days of real pageantry, Dicky Barrett acting as the band leader directing the action while delivering his trademark gruff vocals, the horns, melodies and infectious ska beat making it impossible not to tap your feet.
I think the fans are just as important at shows as the artists themselves, and one thing for sure is that Bosstones fans show up for a good time, ready to cut loose. With the MMBT banner blowing in the wind Dicky Barrett talked with the crowd about the bond the band has with the Souls, and their connection to Jersey, specifically Asbury Park, the crowd cheered loudly returning the love.
The Bosstones continued their set hitting all the high notes including “Wasted Summers,” Kinder Words,” Everybody’s Better” and even threw in covers of “Simmer Down” by The Whalers and “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash. For me, the highlight of the show was “The Impression That I Get” a classic MMBT song that really ignited the crowd. The Bosstones played a total of eighteen songs during their set including the encore. There’s no question that ska shows and music, in general, are just simply fun. Bands like the Bosstones deliver a level of showmanship and musical energy really unique to the scene that needs to be witnessed. Great set by a veteran band!
Getting thing started today were three bands, the first up, Spanish Love Songs a pop-punk outfit from L.A. who played a fast-paced set of great punk tunes for the early comers. SLS’s music seemed to focus on social issues, which is understandable given their punk roots and our current fucked social/political situation. SLS’s represented themselves really well in both their musical delivery and mature stage presence, and I look forward to catching them again.
Next was Fucked Up, all the way from Toronto, Canada. Up until the past few years, I thought that the best things ever from Canada were Rush (the band) and Molson beer, but man was I wrong. People don’t seem to equate Canada and music, but let me tell you, they rock North of the border! Fucked Up came to play, bringing their hardcore “A” game to the pony. Watching the crowd’s reaction to their set was a mixture of who the fuck are these guys, and what just happened! (In a good way). Awesome set by Fucked Up!
Last up before the headliners were NYC based Leftover Crack who brought their NY swag along for the ride. Leftover Crack has been around for a while and is made comprised of veteran members of a few other punk bands including Choking Victim and Intro5pect, to name a few. Being the last band before the headliners, Leftover Crack played to an almost full house of primed, ready to roll punk rockers who were really responsive to the bands brand of hard-driving punk tunes. IMHO Scott Sturgeon is one of the most dynamic frontmen in the NY scene, and coupled with the sonic delivery of his bandmates delivered a blistering set at the Pony!
So, to wrap this thing up, there’s not much better than spending a night with the Jersey punk community and the Bouncing Souls in Asbury Park, NJ. Congrats to the Souls for a wildly successful SFS 2019, and most of all 30 year’s of dedication to the Jersey punk scene, you guys make us all proud! In closing a big shout out to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones who have no equal, the openers Spanish Love Songs, Fucked Up, Leftover Crack and the super professional staff at the Stone Pony for serving up the drinks and keeping us all safe and sound!