Named after the nearby park built on a former elevated freight railroad spur, the Highline Ballroom is one of the best live music venues in New York City. From July 6th to the 10th the Chelsea establishment served as home for the Bouncing Souls’ “For All the Unheard”, a series of sold out concerts in which the band played all eight of their studio albums in chronologically order, two a night.
After opening acts Hostage Calm, Dave Vause and Weston the stage went black as the theme from Rocky “Gonna Fly Now” started to play. The clang of a boxing bell and out came a tuxedo dressed man imploring the crowd to “get ready to rumble” and prepare for the heavyweight fight. The opponents? First up was the reigning champion, weighing in at 31 minutes and 18 seconds from New Brunswick, NJ. Out came a card girl carrying the album cover for The Good, the Bad, and the Argyle, the Jersey quartet’s 1994 full length debut. On came the band: drummer Mike McDermott, bassist Bryan Kienlen, guitarist Pete Steinkopf and vocalist Greg Attonito. The Souls picked up their instruments and started to belt out “I like Your Mom”. In no time the crowd stirred up a mosh pit full of body banging, slam dancing fun. Unlike most other punk shows whose clienteles are in their teens, the pit and crowd featured mostly 20 somethings with a sprinkling of those in their 30s.
Behind the band, a projection screen came in handy for songs like “These Are the Quotes From Our Favorite 80’s Movies” in which they showed clips from, you guessed it, ‘80s movies referenced in the song. For the excellent Bo Diddley Beat sporting cover of “Candy” there were projections of, you guessed it again, candy. The Souls mostly blasted through their debut, with little conversational interruption. Towards the end of the first set some intentional comedy came as Greg said these were the “easy songs” of the four day event, only to briefly and incorrectly start “Inspection Station” instead of “Deadbeats”. Unfortunately, after the correction was made and the two songs were played, the band left the stage without playing the closing track of The Good…, a cover of the ‘80s hit “I Know What Boys Like”.
The stage went black with the Rocky theme playing over black and white stock boxing footage before our ring announcer came back out to announce the challenger. Facing off against The Good… was Maniacal Laughter, the 23-minute DIY disc that stood in opposition to an “increasingly stagnant” mainstream punk scene. The Souls were off to the races with “Lamar Vanoy” and ripped through the tracklist of Maniacal Laughter with hits like “The Freaks, Nerds, and Romantics”, “Here We Go” and the punktastic cover of 1940s country song “Born to Lose”. In the middle of the set Bryan interjected how much he loved these songs because they were written when the band didn’t know how to write songs, and were molded from passion and half formed musical ideas. McDermott sarcastically retorted, “We know how to write songs now?” Greg, who wore a white tie with the word “one” emblazoned on it (he wore “two” on the second night) donned an acoustic guitar for the western style instrumental “Moon Overy Asbury” before bringing out Johnny X himself, Mike Cavallaro, on stage to play guitar for the finale, “The Ballad of Johnny X”. Quickly after the song ended the Souls exited stage left and the lights went up with no hope for an encore.
The second night, July 7th, included openers Wildstreet, Yuppicide and the Star Fucking Hipsters. Despite having broken up earlier this year, hardcore rockers Yuppicide performed admirably with lead singer Jesse Jones showing off a Lady Gaga meets goth swan costume. A solid set was put in by Star Fucking Hipsters, the punk/ska supergroup fronted by Leftover Crack’s Stza. Following the opening acts, the Souls were again introduced by our tuxedo’d ring accouncer, except the card girl was replaced by a middle aged hippie man dressed in an Evel Knievel getup. The Souls proceeded on a blistering pace, knocking out the tracklist from their eponymous disc , including hits such as “Kate is Great”, “East Side Mags” and “East Coast, Fuck You”. Noticeably missing from the setlist were instrumental “The Screamer” and fan favorite “I Like Your Eyes”. After the show, when confronted by dedicated stragglers about these omissions, The Pete incredulously claimed, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, that the band had in fact played the tracks.
After another boxing interlude, the challenger for the evening, Hopeless Romantic, was introduced by our Michael Buffer and the card boy, who had now traded the dare devil outfit for a scantily clad bondage ensemble, which prominently displayed his bare ass. Highlights of the second set included rousing renditions of “Ole!” and “Bullying the Jukebox” as well as audience participation on “Wish Me Well (You Can Go to Hell)”, when Stephanie, a randomly chosen girl from the crowd, got to sing a duet with Greg.
Stephanie wasn’t the only one in the 700 person capacity filled venue that knew the lyrics, as most of the songs from the two nights featured unison chants from the crowd. The on stage passion of the Souls was matched by their fans throughout, including a handicapable man in a wheel chair both crowdsurfing and dancing in the mosh pit on opening night. It is this intimate energy between band and audience that makes a Bouncing Souls’ show so special. Despite the lack of encores and noticeable songs missing from the sets, the first two nights of the New York leg of the “For All the Unheard” Tour were a rousing success.