If you’re like me and “of a certain age” and grew up embedded in the Epitaph/Fat Wreck Chords sound of the early 1990’s, you’ve no doubt got a special place in your heart for the Bouncing Souls and the Swingin’ Utters. And though both bands have been rather steadily plying their respective wears for thirty-ish years, unless you caught them opening for Descendents together back in 1996 or maybe at a handful of festival one-offs, you probably never got the chance to see them together. And so it was with great anticipation that the Souls announced that the Utters would be the sole opener on a quick three-day run of dates in the greater NYC area. The second of those three shows was at the tiny Webster Underground in Hartford last Saturday, and yours truly was one of the lucky ones crammed into the dimly lit glorified hallway of a black-painted-plywood walled venue for the festivities.
The Utters took the stage first promptly at 8:30pm. This three-show run opening for the Souls served as a break roughly at the halfway point of the legendary Santa Cruz band’s own eastern US headlining tour, and because there were only two bands on the bill — shoutout to two-band show bills, by the way — the Utters were afforded a longer-than-average slot. This resulted in a stellar eighteen-song (by my count) set that spanned the bulk of the band’s three-decade career. I had seen the Utters headline in New Hampshire earlier in the week and left just about as thoroughly impressed by the quartet (longtime partners Johnny Bonnel and Darius Koski joined by newest bassist Tony Teixeira and fill-in drummer Max Katz) as I had been at any time I’d seen them in the past. This show raised the bar to even loftier heights, with a varied setlist that found traditional favorites like “Windspitting Punk” and “The Librarians Are Hiding Something” joined by some of the more recent odd-tempo Bonnel-penned tracks like personal highlight “Dubstep.” Every handful of years, it seems like the Utters go through a particularly productive writing and touring phase, and based on their recent album, Peace And Love, and the two shows I caught last week, here’s hoping we’re in one of those cycles.
By the time the Souls hit the stage, the sold-out crowd had packed sardine style into the venue, and remained a frenetic ball of energy from the opening notes of “Hopeless Romantic” to the closing notes of “Night On Earth” more than an hour later. The Hartford area has been starved for good punk shows for a while – the Webster tends to draw a more metal-influenced crowd – and even though the average age was…well…clearly Souls fans from back in the day, that didn’t stop the constant whirling dervish and barrage of crowd surfers from matching the band’s energy. If you closed or eyes or at least just squinted, you’d have sworn it was 1998 all over again. “Monday Morning Ant Brigade” and “These Are The Quotes From Our Favorite ’80s Movies” and “I Like Your Mom” were fun additions to a set, and are proof that the band still maintain their goofy sense of humor amidst a set that is also chock full of anthemic rallying cries. Oh, and speaking of the band’s energy; it is not hyperbole or said with any malice to previous drummers to state that the addition of George Rebelo behind the kit equates to the most steady, rock solid lineup of the band’s three-decade career. There was obviously early scuttlebutt that they might throw in the towel when Michael McDermott left back in 2013 after a 14 year run, and boy would that have been a mistake.
Head below for our photo rundown from a night that was truly one for the books.