BOWLING FOR SOUP + SIMPLE PLAN + NOT UR GIRLFRENZ – BRIGHTON CENTRE 15.02.20
Formed in Texas in 1994, pop punk four-piece Bowling For Soup came to prominence in the early 2000’s. Their ‘Drunk Enough To Dance’ album provided a UK Top 10 hit in 2002 with ‘Girl All The Bad Guys Want’, and the song was nominated for a Grammy award. Follow up album ‘A Hangover You Don’t Deserve’ was also a success, largely due to its single ‘1985’, which again reached the UK Top 40. The accompanying video, featuring parodies of 80’s pop icons (including Robert Palmer and George Michael), has since clocked up a creditable 41 million views.
If you haven’t come across Bowling For Soup before, their music juxtaposes poppy harmonies, often on light hearted themes, with upbeat punky thrash guitar. It follows the well travelled trail of North American pop punk, blazed by earlier bands such as Green Day and Blink-182. The name, in case you were wondering, is a cleaned up adaptation of a Steve Martin comedy routine. They have continued to tour and release albums, with relatively few line up changes over the years. That this tour includes the 4,500 capacity Brighton Centre suggests they have also retained a numerous and loyal fan base.
It’s a dark and stormy night, and it’s a relief to get off the blustery seafront into the relative calm of the venue, which is spacious and relaxed, despite the rapid influx of windswept patrons. In the hall the stage is ready with three drum kits, each with a band logo on the front skin, set up on progressively higher risers. It looks pretty cool. The technical crew are clearly not stinting on lines and channels.
First up tonight are Not Ur Girlfrenz. Their kit is on stage level, but they have free standing banners with the band members’ names on, and when the lights go down, big video screens behind the stage play a cute and kooky introductory cartoon. This trio of Texan teenagers apparently first got together in 2016 as a fake band for a film school project. Having decided to do it for real, they made rapid progress, and won a high profile ‘battle of the bands’ contest in their home city of Dallas. Teaming up with Bowling For Soup frontman Jaret Reddick, who became their manager, producer and mentor, provided considerable career impetus, and they were the youngest band ever to play the Vans Warped Tour, as well as opening for The Polyphonic Spree and, of course, Bowling For Soup.
On stage they are three very young women (technically school age) who play with commendable energy and a confidence and swagger that belies their tender years. The music is lively and poppy rock, played with plenty of attitude. As the banners suggest, Liv (Haynes) is house left on guitar and lead vocals. She has long blonde hair and plays a blue and white PRS. Centre stage, behind a black kit, is Maren (Alford), showboating like an old pro, flinging her sticks up between hits and flailing her long dark hair. Gigi (Liv’s sister), is house right on bass. Her hair is dyed red, which provides a visual contrast with a bright blue top, and she is grooving on a red and white Musicman bass.
Opener ‘Warped’ is a cracking tune, and the band are really going for it. The screens are lighting up with the members’ names, and coloured strobe bursts punctuate the breakdown. ‘Song About You’ is another catchy melody with a cute lyric. For ‘Game Over’, introduced as a new number, Gigi is sitting on the edge of the stage, dangling her legs into the photographers’ pit, looking very comfortable indeed.
Liv’s rapport with the sizeable crowd is particularly impressive. For ‘Somehow’ she switches to acoustic guitar to vary the vibe, then is back on electric for ‘Never Stop’, turning in a cracking riff and orchestrating a large scale clap along. ‘No One Asked You Anyway’ seems to sum up the band ethos. They dedicate it to anyone who’s been underestimated. For the set finale, Liv discards her guitar and prowls the stage while the rhythm section provides a thunderous backing to the Spice Girls’ pop classic ‘Wannabe’. As songs go it’s pretty cheesy, but they make it a lot of fun.
It would be easy to be cynical and dismiss Not Ur Girlfrenz as just a manufactured kids’ band, but I’ve very much enjoyed their set. As the saying goes, if you’re good enough then you’re old enough, and if you’ve got the music industry onboard too, so much the better. I suspect this is a band we’ll be hearing a lot more of in times to come.
Not Ur Girlfrenz setlist: ‘Warped’, ‘Song About You’, ‘Game Over’, ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’ (My Chemical Romance cover), ‘Somehow’, ‘Never Stop’, ‘No One Asked You Anyway’, ‘Wannabe’ (Spice Girls cover).
Next up are Simple Plan, who were formed in Montreal in 1999. Red lights and sirens announce their impending arrival, and a backline of white Mesa Boogie stacks stands ready. Five albums and twenty singles in, this band clearly have all the experience and the chops, but are still young and energetic enough to be bouncing all around the stage and turning in a blistering live show.
They are a black clad five piece, and the front four are all connected wirelessly and jumping on and off flight cases arranged across the stage for the purpose. The lightning theme is a simple red and white, with the band’s ribbon logo on the big screens, and an array of pyro tubes accentuate key moments with barrages of white smoke. Lead vocalist Pierre Bouvier is conducting proceedings from his aluminium framed perch. Shaven headed guitarist Jeff Stinco is mainly house left but very mobile, firing riffs from a Telecaster at his hip. Sébastien Lefebvre favours a semi acoustic and adds backing vocals. David Desrosiers is swinging a white Precision bass and has taken a straight mic stand up onto his mini podium. Drummer Chuck Comeau plays an open kit with no rack toms, although this is no great loss as the sound from the floor tom and kick is absolutely massive.
The music is pretty much like a twin guitar version of Green Day, with lots of harmony vocals over a lively punk pop backing of thrashing guitar and big beats. They are clearly very popular with this audience. Second number, ‘Jump’ has a couple of thousand people doing just that, in unison. It’s quite a sight. For ‘Welcome To My Life’, the hall is a sea of swaying raised arms, and there’s an enthusiastic sing along on the chorus of ‘Shut Up’.
Vocalist Pierre double checks that the crowd have heard of Simple Plan. “We’re the band who say ‘dick’ on the radio a lot.” He’s introducing ‘Addicted’, which features the very funny lyric “I’m addic…I’m addicted to you.” You can’t go far wrong with a song called ‘What’s New Scooby Doo?’ either, and apparently they supplied it for the soundtrack of one of the many re-workings of the classic cartoon.
Being from Canada, Pierre confides, they’ll be flying home to even worse weather than we’ve had tonight. As he introduces ‘Summer Paradise’, I notice that the crew are putting little protective covers over the guitarists’ pedal boards. The reason becomes apparent as a flurry of enormous black beach balls come bouncing across the stage and cascading off into the crowd. Amid the chaos, Jeff unleashes a soaring slide guitar solo. During the breakdown of ‘I’m Just A Kid’, drummer Chuck comes to the front of the stage and swaps roles with Pierre, who takes over behind the kit.
After a verse on vocals, Chuck embarks on a mission to high five everyone in the audience by crowd surfing right across the auditorium. It looks spectacular. Best move of all is saved for the closing number ‘Perfect’, which Pierre starts off on an acoustic. When the time arrives for the rest of the band to come in, he unstraps his guitar and flings it right across the stage, probably at least twenty feet, where it is safely caught by a waiting stage hand. Slick!’
I hadn’t come across Simple Plan before tonight, but it’s been a real pleasure to see a kicking band with a repertoire of strong songs, absolutely at the height of their powers.
Simple Plan setlist: ‘I’d Do Anything’, ‘Jump’, ‘Welcome To My Life’, ‘Shut Up’, ‘Boom!’, ‘Addicted’, ‘What’s New Scooby Doo?’, ‘Summer Paradise’, ‘Where I Belong’, ‘I’m Just A Kid’, ‘Perfect’.
Whoever chose the selection of classic pop punk tracks to play between bands got it spot on, as the people around me are all singing along to every number. The expansive arena has a rather cosy atmosphere of happy nostalgia tonight, and there’s clearly a lot of love for all the bands, and for this genre of music in general.
A recorded intro of ‘Here Comes Bowling For Soup’, with an accompanying cartoon on the big screens, announces the arrival of Bowling For Soup, and the band members take the stage to a loud cheer. Lead vocalist Jaret Reddick is centre stage. He’s a hefty chap with a punky hair style and an interesting guitar that looks like a Musicman Axis with a camo paint job. Unusually, it has a round white scratch plate like you’d find on a Stingray bass. Jaret’s black T-shirt bears the motif ‘Chris farted’, doubtless referring to guitarist Chris Burney, house left. Chris is a truly massive figure, with a bald head and bushy grey beard, and he is clad in a basketball singlet and a pair of voluminous camouflage trousers that are three quarter length, skater style, showing off his contrastingly tiny ankles. He has a habit of throwing his plectrum up in the air and catching it, and is similarly casual flinging his distressed Les Paul around, obviously confident that the strap locks will hold. House right is newest recruit Rob Felicetti, clearly younger than his bandmates, bounding around with a blue and white Musicman 5-string bass. Gary Wiseman, a black clad, bearded figure, thunders around a white drum kit on a high riser that is sufficiently capacious to incorporate a bar area, where a bartender in uniform (complete with sleeve garters) is mixing drinks for the band and a gaggle of onlookers at the side of the stage. It’s a surreal sight, but obviously very practical.
Opening number ‘Suckerpunch’ is as hard hitting as the title would suggest, and by the ‘uh oh’ vocal figure of the second number, ‘High School Never Ends’, I am completely sold on this band. The lyrics are hilarious: “The whole damned world is just as obsessed, with who’s the best dressed and who’s having sex”, and it’s hard to imagine a much catchier and more upbeat pop song. The sound quality and visuals, as usual in this venue, are excellent. The screens have become a busy video wall, mixing live footage of this gig (there’s a camera crew) with clips from the accompanying music videos. The pyro smoke bursts are supplemented by confetti cannons.
The band’s banter with the audience is self deprecating and very amusing. “We’re fat old guys, and we’ve played three songs without collapsing!” quips Jaret after ‘BFFF’. There’s much joshing about accents and pronunciation, which somehow culminates in a very convincing impersonation of reggae star Shaggy. Needless to say, the services of the barman, who is introduced as Marco, are being utilised during the between song breaks.
For ‘Ohio (Come Back To Texas)’, the screens display the flag of the Lone Star State, and fellow Texans Not Ur Girlfrenz come back on stage and take over to finish the song. There’s a new single to promote, the snappy and instantly appealing ‘Alexa Bliss’, a love song to a WWE wrestler. The crowd are flinging toilet rolls about, in the style of a 1970’s football match, which makes the post song analysis very amusing as Jaret tries to establish whether there is a colloquial local term for the product. Despite 4,000 people screaming “bog roll” at him, he’s having trouble hearing the phrase.
Great songs keep on coming in quick succession. I particularly like ‘No Hablo Ingles’ (“I Don’t Speak English”), which is catchy and funny, and there’s a cute moment where Marco the barman runs to the front of the stage to deliver a short burst of Tijuana brass style trumpet. For big hit ‘Girl All The Bad Guys Want’, the pyrotechnic crew throw in the whole works with confetti bursts and an array of stage gerbs, spurting huge fountains of sparks. For the more introspective ‘When We Die’ there’s a thick carpet of dry ice.
‘Almost’ is another big punk pop hit, with a slightly wistful lyric over the bouncy rhythm, and ‘Get Happy’ has a superb progression of stabbing rhythm guitar that sounds almost psychedelic. There’s a moment of seriousness when Jaret discusses his own struggles with depression introducing ‘HSRA’. Rob also takes advantage of the change of vibe to thank the audience for accepting him as a band member, which is equally touching. Then it’s back to business as usual for closing number ‘Punk Rock 101’, which incorporates a series of staged photo opportunities for audience and band alike.
Needless to say, there’s no possibility of not playing some encores, and the band still have the spectacular hit ‘1985’ in the locker. The evening ends with ‘A Really Cool Dance Song’, where the sequenced backing enables the band to put down their instruments and join the burgeoning party that is unfolding across the stage with crew, friends and members of the other bands. It’s been a fabulous evening’s entertainment, and the huge love in the room shows the affection that this genre of music is still held in.
Bowling For Soup setlist: ‘Suckerpunch’,’High School Never Ends’, ‘BFFF’, ‘Ohio (Come Back To Texas)’, ‘Alexa Bliss’, ‘The Bitch Song’, ‘Smoothie King’, ‘No Hablo Ingles’, ‘Girl All The Bad Guys Want’, ‘When We Die’, ‘Shoot To Thrill / Kickstart My Heart’, ‘Today Is Gonna Be A Great Day’, ‘Almost’, ‘Get Happy’, ‘HSRA’ (Blue October cover), ‘Punk Rock 101’, (encore) ‘1985’ (SR 71 cover), ‘A Really Cool Dance Song’
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