“It’s great to be back ladies and gentlemen – many of you are at home not wearing pants, or if you’re in the UK not wearing trousers”, quips Bowling For Soup frontman Jaret Reddick mere minutes into his band’s set. In most scenarios, this would be an incredibly strange statement to hear, even from the comedically-minded Texans, but of course 2020 has been an incredibly strange year. The band, comprised of Reddick, fellow axeman Chris Burney, drummer Gary Wiseman and bassist Rob Felicetti have much like the rest of the world, spent much of the year confined to their homes thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, forcibly altering their plans for the year almost immediately after the conclusion of one of their regularly-scheduled UK tours back in February. Now though, the band are finally back up on a stage together for the first time in roughly eight months, albeit a socially-distanced and private one at the Studios at Fischer complex in their native Texas, not playing to a live crowd but to a camera crew and broadcasting a pair of shows online instead – the first of which we were lucky enough to catch.
One day prior to that though, the four members of BFS are packed onto this most unusual of stages for a soundcheck available to VIP ticket holders, who are greeted with just about the most on-brand chaotic display you’d expect from a band of jokesters who’ve been cooped up for this many months. “Chris has shit his pants twice today”, Jaret matter-of-factly notes mere moments after first song Trucker Hat, as Burney stands next to him smirking and clothed in a replacement floral mumu. The full story will be told multiple times across their performances, but suffice to say, it’s rather grim. Thankfully Hey Diane follows next, and finishes off on a minor stage invasion from Chris’ pet dog Wally, who is promptly scooped up by a crew member, before the band cap off on run-throughs of both rarely-played ballad Catalyst and newest single Alexa Bliss – both sounding far more polished than you might expect from a band who haven’t played together since the start of the year, in a promising preview of things to come. Both Burney and Wiseman then exit the stage, leaving Jaret and Rob to put on a mini acoustic set consisting of fan favourites Smoothie King, Star Song, Belgium and Turbulence; all intercut with yet more of the usual joking around. It’s a nice starting point for the day to come; managing to keep the band’s signature performance style very much intact despite the unusual setting.
Performance day proper arrives, and as the band’s usual Here Comes Bowling For Soup theme song fades, and the opening strains of The Bitch Song begin to crash through the speakers, it immediately becomes apparent just how badly the members of Bowling For Soup have missed live performances. Packing in a mammoth 15 song set into just under 90 minutes, the band mark their triumphant return with an emphatic greatest hits set that encompasses as many of the key songs from their career as they can cram in – everything from big hitters like Ohio (Come Back To Texas), Punk Rock 101, Emily (swapped out in the second performance for Two Seater) and High School Never Ends through to latter day cuts like Hey Diane and the aforementioned Alexa Bliss make the cut here, as the band seek to bring as much fun as possible to a fanbase starved of live music for many months now.
Of course, this still being an adapted version of the typical Bowling For Soup live show above all else, the band still find time to cram in as many of their trademark live moments as possible; flanked by large TV screens containing a sort-of ‘audience’ of Zoom callers from their fanbase, the band take multiple opportunities to pause and joke around, including a rather in-depth discussion on “boob-cam” in the isolation gig age as well as Jaret at one point being fully distracted by a sudden dog appearance on-stream; later, the impromptu “BFS Comedy Jam” sees the band ‘facing off’ in a groan-inducing joke-telling segment that, while perhaps still a bit lengthier than necessary, ends amusingly enough with Burney producing a large envelope and declaring “I’m pregnant – it’s Gary’s”; the band’s onstage bar remains well stocked by designated bartender Marco (who actually ends up consuming most of the drinks himself as time rolls on, it appears), and elsewhere, the “Bowling For Soup Musically Enhanced Photo Opportunity” (read, slight break for the band) returns here as the “Screenshot Opportunity”, as the quartet all dance around and pose to the various cameras present for an amusing few minutes as the campy tones of David Lee Roth’s Spanish-language version of Yankee Rose blare over the PA. Elsewhere, the band take their obligatory ballad moment normally occupied by a song like Turbulence to instead air the equally-heartfelt Catalyst from most recent album Drunk Dynasty. “We’ve never played this song in front of people”, Jaret notes of the song, “and after today…we still will never have played this song in front of people”
Perhaps the most exciting moment of the whole night for hardcore Bowling For Soup fans follows soon after though, as Jaret confirms that the band have used their extended time off the road to finish a brand new album (“We’re not the Gin Blossoms, it’s gonna be good”, he quips tongue-firmly-in-cheek before completely losing it with laughter), before they then debut a punchy new song titled Brad Pitt – an rollicking ode to the eponymous actor featuring an grin-inducing chorus of “I wanna be Brad Pitt/It would be the shit if I could be Brad Pitt” that sounds exactly how you’d expect from the band, and takes precisely one run-through to firmly lodge in the mind. The band’s obligatory one-two closer of Girl All The Bad Guys Want and 1985 then finally bring things to an end, the entire band firing on all cylinders as they deliver knockout versions of two of their biggest hits.
They might have been gone a while, and returning in somewhat bizarre circumstances, but this show (and indeed the one following it) are proof enough that there’s plenty of life in the Bowling For Soup engine yet, and we can’t wait to see what the next year will bring.