LIVE: Bowling For Soup / Less Than Jake @ Eventim Apollo, London

By Katherine Allvey

Bowling For Soup have sold out their entire UK tour. This may be surprising to some; if you ask anyone with even a passing interest in pop punk their opinion on the band, you’ll likely be told that they were written off as genre front-runners a long time ago. Countless articles have tried to work out if they’re a clever, satirical band who are only masquerading as poop-obsessed also-rans while simultaneously raving about their live energy. However, outside the circles inhabited by music critics, Bowling For Soup have accumulated a fan base of folk who grew up with the Texans’ high school humour and stuck with them. A lot of them have brought their kids along to the Eventim Apollo for their first taste of punk rock. As introductions go, there aren’t many better ones out there; unsubtle, bursting with friendship, and incredibly wholesome (whether they intended it to be or not). 

Less Than Jake have been providing the quintessential ska punk sound for a long time and there’s something so comforting in their appearances, like old school friends who appear to crash on your sofa every few years. They aren’t aiming to shatter boundaries any more in their role as Bowling For Soup’s support, just to “rile everybody up.” ‘All My Beat Friends Are Metalheads’ comes with a call to flip our hands into horns and a word perfect singalong punctuated with inflatable dancers follows. They shout out to Nandos and Cardiff (“the diff”), and the whiplash tempo changes of ‘Plastic Cup Politics’ inspires as much skanking as the limited elbow space of the pit will allow. ‘Gainesville Rock City’ is their final power statement, and there’s just something so pure and satisfying about finishing with a chance to dance our frustrations out of our system. 

“Who wants to have the best night of the their lives?” Bowling For Soup’s frontman Jaret Reddick calls after their animated intro song. “Well, that won’t happen tonight. How about we have a fucking outstanding night instead?” He wholeheartedly leans into the band’s reputation as losers with frequent self-deprecating jokes. Their humour, as a whole, is gentle and silly. ‘My Wena’ is performed with cartoon hotdogs behind them, as if you didn’t guess what the song is about, and they stop halfway through ‘Punk Rock 101’ for a photo opportunity.

It’d take an exceptionally cold punk purist not to be won over by their antics and, to top it off, most of the setlist is fast, slick and really well executed. ‘Two-Seater’ (“A lesson in love and love lost; a valuable lesson that you should never vandalise your ex gf’s car”) is a perfect blend of game graphics and petty crime with a skipping beat and adorable vocals, a satisfying fade between a drifting bridge and even a proper harmony or two. It slots in perfectly with ‘Life After Lisa’s thrashy sitcom soundtrack vibes. ‘High School Never Ends’ has aged well and lights up the room with heartwarming rock star call-outs and callbacks.

About halfway through the show, the cartoon backdrops are switched off. Reddick stands alone under a spotlight without his usual silly grin. “I want to talk about mental health,” he says, a sudden sad note in his voice. In 2013, he reveals, he’d intended to quit the band after their UK tour. “I’m a depressed, anxious individual,” he confesses, “I still battle with it every single day.” The vocalist raises his head. “No one here is alone and no one is immune!” And then, like a sobering lightning bolt, the atmosphere transforms. ‘Turbulence’ is a reassurance, a hug, a message plainly spoken and the whole area bursts with life, raising our phones like diamonds. For three minutes, they are a punk rock band, and an impressive one at that. “Sing with me,” asks Reddick softly and we do, our voices soaring with hope. As the lights fade out, he bites his lip and just for a moment his eyes lower.

Then the window closes and we’re back to normal, or at least the version of it we expect at a Bowling For Soup show, with squeaky voice karaoke competitions and jokes about vaginas. ‘The Bitch Song’ receives an outpouring of love and fist bumps, and, of course, ‘Girl All The Bad Guys Want’ is a punch of energy. The pit inflates into a fulfilling singalong with whole bodies pushed into the lyrics. The band sit down on plastic stairs, as if waiting at a bus stop, watching us cheer for the encore. The delayed gratification of the banter before ‘1985’ pays off and they leave us with a rock number that absolutely works for them, rich with retro chord changes. 

We’re no closer to working out if Bowling For Soup are ‘for real’ or not, but we can be certain that they are genuinely very talented at what they do. The band have found their niche as accessible comic rockers, humble and self aware, and they are loved for it. Perhaps, with the courage to be more honest like they showed they can be tonight, they could finally get the respect they clearly deserve.