By BRUCE DENNILL
Bowling For Soup / Rumours Rock City, Blackheath, Johannesburg 7.5
Having been around in one or another form since the late Eighties, it says much for Texan pop-punks Bowling For Soup that not only are they filling venues halfway across the world in 2018, but also that everyone in the room seems to know every word of every song.
It must be noted that it wasn’t only the hits – Girl All The Bad Guys Want, Punk Rock 101, 1985 and their cover of Stacy’s Mom (the Fountains Of Wayne song they were continuously getting mistaken as the creators of before they added it to their catalogue) – that kept the fans buzzing at their first Johannesburg show.
There was also cheerful, mischievous humour that connected every song and was delivered so well that it would almost have been worth the ticket price for the comedy alone.
Singer and guitarist Jaret Reddick is a terrific frontman, his oddly high voice (he’s a big guy) at the centre of all the music but also immediately and powerfully engaging with the audience, with guitarist Chris Burney and bassist Erik Chandler both excellent, wise-cracking foils for that part of the act,
The band’s easy chemistry with each other and the crowd and the no-pressure, teenage rebellion themes of the songs gave the venue a happy, chirpy feel at odds with the frustration generated by a late start that was the result of some gear niggles that, frankly, shouldn’t have been allowed to happen at all. Minor soapbox moment here. It doesn’t matter that this was part of an international tour. If the bands are professional, the venue, booking agents and other back-end platform providers and the service they provide should be as well.
The headliners’ generous set also included goofy asides like a planned photo opportunity in which all four members lined up to position themselves in cartoonish poses as fans snapped away with their cellphone cameras. This might have seemed like just another facet of the indulged immaturity the band have as their calling card, but it as also a marker of their awareness of how their fans do their marketing for them, with hundreds of good pictures that reflect well on the band (as opposed to the impromptu out-of-focus snaps most concertgoers land up with) now available for posting on social media.
This combination of savviness and high-end chops was on display in all of the evening’s support acts as well – an encouraging, exciting sign for fans more used to well-meaning but unpolished bands at many local venues. The technical problems were a particular hassle in this regard, as all of the other bands on the bill – Slippery When Wet, Made For Broadway and Grassy Spark – had various technical aspects to their sets that required all the requisite systems be online before they began. Happily, the wait was worth it.
Slippery When Wet play in the style of 1970s English punk bands – fast, tight and invested, with the constant movement of the members adding to the considerable force of their arrangements. Made For Broadway matched and perhaps even exceeded that energy output, adding melodic pop hooks to their similarly animated performance. Bassist Brogan Thompson is particularly impressive, a whirlwind of exuberance with a massive smile permanently plastered on his face and a huge decal of a puppy’s head on his guitar should his manner and rainbow-coloured hair have not already suggested that he’s not one for taking himself too seriously.
Cape Town’s Grassy Spark completed the round-up with a slightly different sound to the rest of the bill. Their usual jazzy ska and intricate rhythms added an extra layer to the event’s overall sound, which they then built on further with two new songs that might best be described as groove-based R&B. Both were well-received – expect a similarly good response when they make it to radio.
This was a great showcase for South African pop and rock music and a rousing reminder of how music that has soundtracked a certain part of an audience’s collective life can have lasting impact.