It’s impossible to watch Bowling For Soup without thinking that the entire thing is very high school drama. The band’s juvenile style is largely based around getting (or more often not getting) the girl, gags on the male anatomy and other subjects that in all fairness should make them all but unlistenable. We want to file them under ‘ignore’, but see them live and you simply can’t. They’re just so damn witty.
It doesn’t take long to show, either. There’s certainly a contrived element to Bowling For Soup’s humour, but they’re barely on stage when they pause for several minutes to start an ultimately fruitful search for a shoe that’s been flung wildly into the bouncing crowd, demanding that the various cartoon characters that have made themselves apparent in the audience fancy dress, all do their part. On stage, things are pretty relentless in their non-musical comedy too. Chunky guitarist Chris Burney pulls ludicrous dance moves between riffs and flicks plecs off various parts of his body. Singer Jaret Reddick twice swings his guitar loosely around his neck and back in to place before strumming the next chord, and every so often the entire band take a short break, egging on the audience from the comfort of the temporary, fully functioning bar they’ve set up actually on The Academy’s stage.
This might be the ‘One Big Happy!’ (an apt title for the new album) tour, but Bowling For Soup aren’t the types to scrimp through a set on lesser-known new material. ‘Ohio (Come Back To Texas)‘ is a nostalgic shot in the arm early on, bracketed by ample career-spanning silliness. During ‘A Really Cool Dance Song‘ the band drift off towards the end, openly mocking their own one-song-only use of backing track by allowing the beats to continue while they’re several metres from the nearest instrument. ‘Punk Rock 101′ takes things a step further, with support act Patent Pending taking BFS’s instruments for the final chorus and blasting a still rowdier version, one that sees the headliners joke that they don’t have the energy to perform more than a song or two without a break themselves.
They are 18 years of age as a band, and Bowling For Soup have notched up an impressive array of instantly recognizable songs. Perhaps the biggest is 1985 (actually a cover of a track by lesser known rockers SR-71), which also features a late-song break, allowing The Academy’s packed crowd to scream the lyrics back at the band while they chow down on yet another beer at the bar. ‘Girl All The Bad Guys Want’ is all the band’s own, and comes complete with a highly optimistic introduction as “the best song in the world”, though in the moment, you might find a decent percentage inside The Academy who agree.
Elsewhere, there is – occasionally – an air of comedy desperation, particularly in the idea that being ‘the band that waves back’ is something of any live note (yes, they’re being tongue in cheek, but it did come up a few too many times). All in, then, this is a knowingly silly performance, but then it always has been. We can’t help but chuckle at the enthusiastic fan who boos and refuses to applaud for the only time all night when Bowling For Soup perform a Britney Spears cover, as frankly ‘Hit Me Baby One More TIme’ isn’t all that more cheesy than almost anything else delivered tonight. Two tracks that are a little more personal and engaging are saved for the end, in fact: ‘Emily‘ and ‘The Bitch Song‘ are a nice, high pace way to finish off a 20-plus song set that, even 18 years in, still seems to mean something to the band. That alone is impressive, but as is tonight’s set. For all the great banter, though, there’s an important note to be made: Bowling For Soup are a quality live act, but that quality lies in their comedy more than in their music.