Bowling For Soup are a band who always come with one motto – have fun or go home. Maybe this band is never going to headline a major festival, sell 20 million albums or play in front of the Queen, but one thing that can be guaranteed to the throngs of loyal fans queuing up from early hours outside Birmingham’s O2 Academy is that they’re going to have one hell of a night, and a great laugh to boot.
Live shows are the crown jewel in BFS’ legacy; they always tour the UK twice every year, bringing a stripped back acoustic set in the spring before returning in the autumn with a full band spectacle, and every time they come, they bring an impressive amount of energy to the stage. On that note, tonight’s choice of opening band is nothing less than a masterstroke. The line-up of the tour has been decided by the release of the album One Big Happy, a 3-way split album between all of the bands on tonight’s tour, but even if they hadn’t been on the new record, one feels that Patent Pending would have earned a place on this show simply through pure talent. The band arrive on the stage with roaring guitars and pounding drums, but the appeal of this band is instantly clear – and it’s pouring out of frontman Joe Rogasta in waves. The passion with which he sings, dances and generally throws himself around the stage is jaw-dropping, and he brings the most energy to a live show I’ve seen since letlive.’s famed Jason Butler – those who’ve seen him live know just how much of a compliment this is. He keeps the crowd laughing throughout almost all of his set, but also shows emotion; the impassioned anti-suicide speech he makes before “One Less Heart To Break”, a song written about a friend of the band who commited suicide. The raw love for his craft that Joe obviously brings with him to every show was on display throughout, particularly during a fantastic cover of Smash Mouth’s classic hit “All Star”, before winding to a close with the hilarious “Douchebag” – never winning any points for maturity, but at a Bowling For Soup show, one should expect nothing less.
Sadly, all the energy that Patent Pending brought into the room, The Dollyrots sucked away again the minute they arrived on stage. The members almost seemed superglued to the floor, unmoving in their straightforward “play the songs and leave” attitudes. The frontwoman Kelly Ogden has a sadly nondescript voice, not so much untalented as simply uninteresting; while the few attempts guitarist Luis Cabezas made to join in on vocals were nothing less than painful. They brought a half hour of boredom onto the stage with them, complete with a cover version of folk singer Melanie’s single “Brand New Key” – creating more ridicule within the crowd thanks to, of course, The Wurzels’ famed combine harvester-themed parody of the song. Indeed, many around me (and yes, I’ll admit, I was joining in) were singing the Wurzel lyrics in exaggerated West Country accents to keep themselves amused. The structure of this tour had to be questioned, with most agreeing that the main support slot would have been much better served by Patent Pending than the meagre offerings of The Dollyrots.
All this however was thankfully forgotten once Bowling For Soup’s intro track began filling the speakers of the Academy. The band made their way onto the stage to a tremendous ovation which they graciously took in before launching into a superb double of perennial opening track “My Hometown” and celebrity-satirizing super-hit “High School Never Ends”. From here on out, the show is a glorious celebration of the band’s back-catalogue, from classic Drunk Enough To Dance track “Life After Lisa” to more recent hits like No Hablo Ingles and new single Let’s Go To The Pub. An early cover of a song they are often falsely given credit for, Fountains Of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom”, sets the tone for a set full of self-deprecating humour, filled with the theme of Bowling For Soup now officially being known as ‘The Band You Can Wave To’ (yes, really) and the inevitable jokes about one another’s age, sexuality and even mothers. There was also a strange moment of band-swapping – during the closing riff of “Ohio (Come Back To Texas)”, the entire band were replaced on stage by the members of Patent Pending, who, it has to be said, finished off the song in style.
However, despite the bizarre comedy inbetween, the focus manages to remain largely on the music, a particular highlight of this generously lengthy 25 song set being the classic “Punk Rock 101”, still inspiring the loudest singalong in the venue more than 10 years after it was originally released. Surprises abounded throughout the song choices – I don’t think anyone could honestly have been expecting the sentimental “Friends O’ Mine” to pop up – and a good variation was a theme, although admittedly the setlist did rely slightly more heavily on best-selling album A Hangover You Don’t Deserve than any other. However, this is excuseable; after all, it’s the band’s biggest hit record for a reason, and seeing legendary album tracks like Shut Up And Smile popping up was welcomed warmly by the appreciative crowd.
BFS rounded off the main set with the inevitable 1985, their only truly massive song, breaking out of the rock scene and into popular culture, before beginning an encore by whipping the crowd into a frenzy with the opening riff of hometown legends Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, before somewhat disappointingly fading off into a cover of The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” – still a great song, but perhaps in Birmingham, it is best to either play all of a Sabbath song, or none of it. (The point has to be made, this wasn’t the most bizarre cover of the night – that honour goes to their superb version of Britney Spears’ hit “Baby One More Time”). The night was brought to a close as all the members of Patent Pending and The Dollyrots took to the stage to party once more while BFS played final track “The Bitch Song”, but this was not to be the end as, in a fittingly weird end to a strange night, a fan in a head-to-toe penguin outfit was brought up on stage and proceeded to break-dance to a theme of Jaret Reddick’s beatbox antics.
Overall, Bowling For Soup presented a wonderful night spoiled only slightly by one uninspiring support band, but in the end, the impression from the crowd is probably best summed up by the name of the tour itself – truly, this was One Big Happy.
4 out of 5 high fives!