For the third time in as many years, New Jersey punk rock stalwarts The Bouncing Souls threw their now-annual Stoked For The Summer blowout show last weekend on the outdoor, beachfront Summer Stage at the legendary Stone Pony in equally legendary Asbury Park. In spite of occurring in what’s theoretically an off-year for the band — their last full-length, Simplicity, was released in 2016 and the band are gearing up for their 30th anniversary next year — it also marked the largest Stoked For The Summer show to date, with well over 4000 people baking outdoors on the blacktop for the festivities.
Tim Barry kicked things off late in the afternoon in quintessential Tim Barry fashion. The Richmond, Virginia, native has long had ties to the Bouncing Souls/Chunksaah Records/Little Eden Studio family in Central Jersey, and as such was the perfect choice to get things rolling. Armed with only his trusty Martin acoustic (and an assist from longtime Souls merchandise manager/video production wizard Matthew Gere on harmonica), Barry blazed through an intense half-hour set that was heavy on songs with Garden State references (“Avoiding Catatonic Surrender,” “40 Miler,” the obvious choice “Little Eden”). Oh…and HE PLAYED AN AVAIL SONG WHICH IS NOT A THING THAT I EVER THOUGHT I’D SAY LET ALONE WITNESS IN PERSON okay, I’m better now.
The Smoking Popes were next out of the chute, fresh off a dozen-hour drive from their previous night’s show in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In spite of the road weariness, the band didn’t seem much worse for the wear, powering through a set that was heavy on crowd favorites like “Rubella” and “I Need You Around.” The Chicago quartet are still celebrating the 20th anniversary re-release of their iconic 1997 album Destination Failure, and have a brand new album mixed, mastered, and ready to go for release this coming fall. If what’s to come bears any resemblance to lead single “Someday I’ll Smile Again,” it’s bound to be an instant pop-punk classic.
Hailing from just up the GSP in Glen Rock, New Jersey, Titus Andronicus occupied the number three spot in the order. Though the Patrick Stickles-led quartet just released a new album, A Productive Cough, a few months back, the band’s half-hour set skipped that album in favor of the more “punk rock bangers” of the back catalog, especially 2015’s The Most Lamentable Tragedy. The band managed to cram a half-dozen songs into their half-hour set, which is not an easy task when you’re known for writing epic tracks about Civil War naval battles and whatnot. In a nod to probably the one artist that cemented Asbury Park’s place in the rock and roll pantheon, the set closed with a pretty stellar cover of Springsteen’s summer classic, “Glory Days.”
Batting clean-up were the inimitable Against Me!. It’s been barely a month since it was announced that former bass player Andrew Seward is now present bass player Andrew Seward once again, and this marked the biggest-scale show in the current lineup’s brief introductory run. I’ve never seen Against Me! – in any formation – be anything short of awe-inspiring, but this show seemed a notch or two above the norm, helped of course by the early evening sun actively setting directly behind the stage. The band’s set opened with scorching renditions “FuckMyLife666” and “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” both from their ground-breaking 2014 album of the same name, and never really let up steam at all for forty-five high energy minutes that featured a non-stop barrage of crowd surfers right from the beginning. This is only a brief run of shows for Against Me!, and Laura Jane Grace has got a solo album due out in the coming months, but the newly retooled AM! lineup being this solid – and seeming to genuinely be having this much fun – so soon is a welcome sign.
Last, but most certainly not least, were the legendary Bouncing Souls. As I intimated above, the Souls have only played a handful of shows this year, but they certainly made up for lost time on this particular night. With the stage – and the crowd – filled with friends and family, the Jersey legends ripped into fan favorites “Hopeless Romantic,” “East Coast, Fuck You” and “The Gold Song” in rapid succession to kick off a set that extended well into the Asbury Park night. The perfect symbiotic relationship between crowd and band can be a tough thing to keep up for an extended time, but was readily on display for the duration of the Souls’ Herculean thirty-song set (a direct nod to their upcoming thirtieth anniversary?) on this particular night. I’ve said this before on other platforms, but I genuinely thought that the Souls sounded the best I’d ever heard them sound when I last saw them in Boston last November. That show, solid as it was, is now a distant second to this one. There’s obviously been a twin-like bond between Bryan Kienlen and Pete Steinkopf at the sonic core of the Souls for three decades, which translates into the two performing in lockstep and making it seem effortless in the process, giving frontman Greg Attonito the freedom to roam – both vocally and physically on stage – like a mad punk rock scientist giving a high-powered TED Talk. And it’s actually quite amazing how seemingly easily – at least from the audience perspective – that the newest Soul, drummer George Rebelo, has acclimated himself to the role, especially given that his “other band,” Hot Water Music, are not only still a living, breathing entity but left for a handful of European shows a day or so after this epic night.
While we’re waiting for what 30th anniversary hi-jinks the Souls might have coming down the ‘pike next year, have a gander at our pictures from Stoked For The Summer 2018 below!