Live: Fighting Off Punk Nostalgia with Lifetime and the Bouncing Souls
The Bouncing Souls/Lifetime
Thursday, August 20
We will do our absolute best to refrain from ascribing metaphorical significance to the guy in the wheelchair at last night's Bouncing Souls 20th anniversary show who calmly spun his way into the thick of the crowd, had himself hoisted into the air and--as a rumble of pointing and disbelief spread across Webster Hall--proceeded to crowdsurf his way up to the front of the stage. "That's Jersey right there for you," said Souls bassist Bryan Kienlen, who could've just as easily been talking about his own band, a vast majority of the crowd, or the evening's New Brunswick-birthed openers, Lifetime.
Behold, the endangered species of the Garden State: Lifetime, back after a two-year hiatus that followed a 1997 breakup and 2005 reunion; the Bouncing Souls, who never left, even as four or five generations of fans came and went; and all of us, who came back too, in order to give that matinee we once regularly saw in countless venues across Philadelphia and New Jersey one last shot.
"We are definitely not a professional band," is what Lifetime singer Ari Katz says, pretty much right away, and no, they are not. Babies and families and being a decade and half removed from the emotionally bare melodic hardcore that is your legacy will do that to you. They're not so much bad as not quite there--at this point, Lifetime have about as much connection to the people they were on Hello Bastards as Pete Wentz does. The perpetually shy and rejected boy that was the hero of Lifetime's original incarnation still lurks in anyone who once was that guy, but at the same time, most of us--the mostly married and fully grown five members of band very much included--haven't been that guy for a long time.
Another way of saying this is that the Bouncing Souls are better at being young. In part because they never stopped, and in part because their brand of youthfulness was always less specific and more abstract--enthusiasm, loyalty, naivety. Exclude the quirkily unpredictable first two albums and this band have been making relatively impersonal, incredibly appealing anthems for almost the entirety of their run--"Hopeless Romantic," "True Believers," "Sing Along Forever," etc. It's heroin for crowds, if not for actual people much older than 18.
But Webster Hall took down the barricades around the stage, in a rare nod to the evening's headliner, and the scrum of stagediving kids in Bad Brains shirts, Johnny X cameos, and Misfits covers was like a brief history of punk rock over the twenty years the Bouncing Souls have been playing it. Their set is anthem after anthem, frontman Greg Attonito unabashedly taking pictures with fans mid-song, happily shaking hands with teenagers who will go to school tomorrow and brag about it, and amiably, if a bit distantly, tossing off songs from all of the band's eras--this is a band that still unabashedly plays "Old School" to kids who hadn't been born when that song came out. They're a step or two slower than they used to be, but that still makes them quicker than most. Here's to another few years at least.