Review: Bowling For Soup/Less Than Jake/Vandoliers – O2 Academy, Glasgow

2024 sees Bowling For Soup celebrating their 30th anniversary as a band, and not only are the celebrations set to last all year long, but they find the much-loved band from Texas performing the largest headlining shows of their career. And then there is the small matter of an appearance in a large field next to East Midlands Airport this Summer. Billed as the “You Asked For It Tour”, the run of 9 shows in 10 days saw the band performing their first-ever UK arena headline show with a sold-out Cardiff International Arena being the lucky recipients of the biggest Bowling For Soup show to date (purely to date because that was surely a case of testing the waters and next time around will include the likes of Wembley Arena). 9 shows in 10 days. All sold-out.

Making the “You Asked For It Tour” a value-for-money ticket and a bit of a family affair are Gainsville, Florida ska-punk veterans Less Than Jake, and charged with opening the tour; BFS’s fellow Texans – Vandoliers. And if ever a band was birthed to get this party started then that band are the utter lunatics known as Vandoliers.

Even the name itself conjures up some interesting propositions: Vandoliers…a mash-up of vandals and bandoliers? Who the hell knows, but the six-piece are as varied as the musical output of the Lone Star State itself. With multi-instrumentalist Cory Graves switching between keys and trumpet, there is a Mariachi vibe about Vandoliers; especially on the full-throated opener ‘Rolling Out’, a riotous celebration of setting off on tour. It’s loud, it’s shouty, and it’s a fantastic introduction to the band for those unfamiliar with them. Vocalist/guitarist Joshua Fleming sparks comparisons with Frank Turner, ever-smiling, always in motion, and having a great time. He plays each gig like it’s his last night on earth.

Graves very much marches to the beat of his own drum and after a few songs his shirt is no longer required and it’s off. This proves to be contagious as by the time the set ends, half of the band are topless like a good old-fashioned game of skins vs shirts in gym class. Songs like ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘Sixteen Years’ fill the old theater with a warm glow of happiness and are irresistible. Trey Alfaro is putting in one almighty shift behind his drumkit and more than earning his crust. With the fiddle work of Travis Curry crucial to their sound, Vandoliers were always going to go down a storm in Glasgow – even without the moonshine-induced version of ‘I’m Gonna Be (500Miles)’ that had the entire audience singing the da-da-da-da parts – and this was the nuttiest Texas hoedown-meets-Scottish Ceilidh known to man. Infectious from start to finish. A return in a headlining capacity is a must.

The biggest compliment that anyone in the UK could pay Less Than Jake is that had they been around in the early 80s then they would have joined the likes of Motörhead, Madness, The Damned, and Dexys Midnight Runners in performing on the groundbreaking and anarchic TV sitcom The Young Ones. A show where “anything goes” seemed to be the motto would have been perfect for the legendary ska-punk band now in their 4th decade as a band.

With Roger Lima’s throbbing basslines shaking the foundations, the 5-piece blast straight into set-opener ‘Last One Out of Liberty City’. The horn section of Buddy Schaub and Peter Wasilewski are anything but traditional (ie. static) and are having a riot as they make full use of the large stage and cajole the audience into taking part. Less Than Jake don’t hang around, each song is usually around 3 minutes long with zero fat included. Tonight it is all about partying and cramming as much as they can into their hour-long set. Founding member and vocalist/guitarist Chris DeMakes handles most of the chit-chat and gets full marks for introducing ‘Help Save the Youth of America from Exploding’ by declaring “If you know this one then I’d like you to sing…if you don’t, then go get a drink because we will sound way fucking better”. A moment later a few crew members armed with toilet roll guns cover the front few rows in streams of toilet roll; a simple party trick, but one that is very visual.

‘All My Best Friends Are Metalheads’ has Lima taking over on lead vocals and the first few crowd surfers of the night go over the barrier. Most in the crowd are content to pogo while singing along in full voice. After Lima slows it down a notch for some audience participation, the band comes crashing back in, and 2 inflatable tube men that you normally see outside car dealerships spring to life. There is a lot of love for Less Than Jake in the room tonight. And a lot of dancing. The full ska effect comes into play on ‘History of a Boring Town’ where Schaub and Wasilewski both play a blinder while Lima slaps the bass for a few short solo licks. The man of the moment though is Matt Yonker on drums. He never misses a beat and keeps powering his bandmates forward in a non-fussy way. ‘Gainesville Rock City’ was always going to close the show and with Lima bouncing like Tigger on meth, the crowd are going wild. A few casualties are brought out of the pit and after a brief respite go straight back in. Catch Less Than Jake on their ‘European Vacation’ tour this coming July/August (dates here) and going by tonight’s show, the dates are going to be rather lively.

DJ Matt Stocks is spinning the choons in between bands and does a fantastic job of firing up the crowd with an inspired playlist that sees Avril Lavigne’s ‘Complicated’ bellowed out in full voice by the crowd who are getting into the party spirit big-time. Once Green Day and The Offspring fade out, Stocks thanks the crowd and retires to the onstage bar to begin the countdown to the appearance of Bowling For Soup. But Bowling For Soup don’t do a traditional countdown. No, they start a digital clock on the huge screen at 04:40 minutes and pipe Motley Crue’s ‘Kickstart My Heart’ through the huge PA. Once the clock gets down to 10 seconds the crowd starts the countdown to zero. Once it hits zero, the lights go out, the BFS logo is lit up in a Stranger Things-style font, and the ‘Bowling For Soup Theme’ starts up. The four band members stroll on and launch into ‘Emily’. As far as intros go this one was pretty bloody special.

With cameramen on either side of the stage, the screen is put to good use with a mixture of BFS video footage and shots of the crowd. Even those at the back manage to get in on the action and it’s fantastic to see that everyone is going for it. ‘My Wena’ is still as much fun today as it was way back then and Rob Felicetti gets the award for the happiest bassist in history. With a smile that could power the venue for a day or two, it’s clear that he is having a total blast. Joining Felicetti in the engine room is long-time BFS drummer Gary Wiseman and it is fantastic to see him back behind the kit after his health scare a few years back. Jaret Reddick is still one of the best frontmen performing today. Warm and humorous, he is the best mate that you wish you had. And that just leaves legendary guitarist Chris Burney; the coolest guy in the building? If we operated on a points-based system then we would be scoring Chris highly for his Municipal Waste t-shirt, and had it been the one with Trump blowing his brains out then it would have been top marks. The natural camaraderie between the 4 bandmates is there for all to see and it’s obvious how strongly they all get along.

After the quickfire opening one-two of ‘Emily’ and ‘My Wena’, JR jokes that they “…just fucking did the impossible and played two songs in a row…” and “…this means that it’s been over 5 minutes since I’ve had a drink of beer…” so, of course, he strolls over to the bar onstage for a beer. A few minutes later the guys in Vandoliers are at the bar having a beer and taking in the show. They’ve still got work to do and after Reddick raises his arms and breaks into some audience participation halfway through ‘Ohio (Come Back to Texas)’ (“…if the person next to you is not doing this it’s ‘cos they hate fun…or they work here…and even then I feel like we are fucking paying them…”) “this” being waving his arms side-to-side –  the band stroll on and take the instruments from Bowling For Soup and finish the song in cowpunk style while the headliners head over to the bar to have a beer.

Among all the joking around and fun moments like ‘Punk Rock 101’ (complete with “…musically enhanced Bowling For Soup photo opportunity…” in front of the big screen while Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ plays at full volume), ‘Two-Seater’, and ‘Today Is Gonna be a Great Day’ (aka ‘Phineas and Ferb’ theme tune), there is the lump-in-throat moment when Jaret Reddick (such an underrated songwriter) introduces ‘Turbulence’ with a heartfelt speech about his struggles with his mental health, how he is dealing with it, and the importance of opening up and talking about it. The message is one of reaching out to someone in need of help, even if it is just as simple as making a phone call to check on them. The response from the crowd is powerful and having the crowd sing the words back to him has a profound effect on Jaret who breaks into tears. After the show JR posted on his socials: “I cried during the show tonight. I actually don’t remember ever doing that during a Bowling For Soup show. I’m just really grateful. Thank you for letting me share my words with you.” During an evening full of laughs and smiles, this was a particularly heartfelt moment that stopped you in your tracks.

How do you follow that up? With a killer romp through one of the strongest jukeboxes in pop-punk history that’s how. ‘Almost’ leads into ‘Girl All the Bad Guys Want’ which in turn leads into ‘1985’. North America – you are up next. And then it’s the small matter of that show at Download Festival 2024 which is followed by 3 shows in Ireland (2 in Dublin, 1 in Belfast) for the ‘Let’s Make Some Pour Decisions’ tour. Be prepared though because a Bowling For Soup gig is like the strapline of the ‘Wayne’s World’ released at the same time as BFS formed: “You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll hurl.” – okay, maybe not the last one, but you get the picture. What is fascinating though is the fact that Bowling For Soup are in the form of their lives 30 years into their career. Where to next? Wembley Arena? Yep. It’s only a matter of time.

All forthcoming Bowling For Soup dates can be found here.

Review – Dave

All images – Dave Jamieson

 

 

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