—and as we enter into the cold night air of North London in mid-October, I think to myself: I am trapped in someone else’s adolescence and I can’t get out.
Before that however, came the dimmed lights of the Union Chapel in Highbury as we passed through the old Gothic revival church’s inner doors, past the table advertising future tour dates and a Hallowe’en screening of John Carpenter’s The Thing, and beyond into the crowded interior and the sound of two rattling acoustic guitars and a voice relating the woes of a somewhat familiar Italian plumber oft dressed in red overalls.
There is a unique atmosphere within the Union Chapel, the unusual mix of a very youthful yet very English audience attending a quiet acoustic show featuring several members of New York pop punk band, Patent Pending, Ryan Hamilton of Bowling for Soup side-project, People on Vacation, and of course Jaret Reddick and Erik Chandler of Bowling for Soup themselves.
A young girl in a pair of chunky Nike trainers and a figure-hugging bright orange dress brushes curls of dark hair from her face and shoots me a look somewhere between a glare and a smile, two young ladies with pronounced Northern accents take photos of my notebook as I write, and between the aisles of pews, mothers coerced into accompanying their daughters move back and forth with steaming mugs of herbal tea.
The contrast is somewhat charming, the cold and damp of the night outside, and the chill of the Congregationalist church’s main hall making the event seem something like an early Bonfire Night gathering with an irreverent soundtrack.
“I’ve cursed 16 times tonight,” declares Patent Pending singer, Joe Ragosta, before playfully adding, “I said I’m fucking sorry!”
The appeal of all three bands present tonight is their mixture of humour and adolescent issues. Many of the songs played throughout the night employ a similar vocabulary of American pop culture that might seem alarming to anyone not able to substitute key terms for a more familiar equivalent.
There is a universal language of how far we have come being spoken here, yet the syntax of its composition are specific alone to a time and place markedly different from that marches on beneath the glow of the warm lights and the cheers from the seated congregation.
Looking furtive and mischievous, Ragosta informs the audience that he intends to crowd-surf, offering the justification that if he does not attempt it now whilst here in a church, he will always regret having missed such an opportunity.
“If you drop me, I will find you,” he promises.
And away he goes, passing over the heads of the gathered congregation, kept buoyant in their hands, iPhones and Samsung S3s held up by members of the audience on the perimeter so as to chart his progress and later upload it to YouTube.
Their final song before leaving the stage is entitled Douchebag, an anthem that ends with an audience chant of ‘Dude, I’m not your bro’ and an emphasis on dramatic jazz hands.
There is just enough time in the interim between bands to upload a blurred picture of Ragosta’s crowd-surfing ambitions to Instagram.
When Reddick and Chandler emerge, following the Bowling for Soup theme tune, Reddick looks suspiciously at his surroundings and declares, “I feel like I should be saving your souls.”
The band then launch into a set of acoustic numbers featuring Emily, 2113, A Really Cool Dance Song, Last Call Casualty— “This song is about how all cell phones should be turned off at 12AM forever!” —and new tracks such as Since We Broke Up, from new album Lunch. Drunk. Love (released on 10th September of this year).
The band are playful and at ease despite the absurdity of the message of their nostalgic Americana as it echoes between the walls of the Gothic revival church, making comment on Patent Pending’s Hey Mario shirt available on the merchandise table, as well as offering a notable mention of Reddick’s newly single status and the hotness of the lighting girl who sits a short distance from me and visibly squirms when she is mentioned. Marco, the man responsible for staffing their own merchandise table—“Your chance to meet a real life Mexican,” quips Reddick—is also name-checked, and a variety of other subjects are covered, not least of all the band’s difficulty with English accents.
From the upper tiers, a member of the audience calls down and informs Reddick that it is his birthday, to which Reddick responds with an impromptu song that manages to make honourable mention of Jews for Jesus as well as featuring the refrain, ‘To Scott—happy motherfucking birthday to you!’
Reddick and Chandler launch into a rendition of Asshole immediately after, a knowing smile on Reddick’s lips.
This banter is symptomatic of the band’s approach and the spirit of the evening’s performance, and it is one that unites their audience, at least during the moments in which the two members of the band are performing.
Yet due to the age of both Reddick and Chandler, there are also a pronounced number of fans in their mid-to-late 20s in attendance, people who have grown up with these bands and their music. It’s an interesting balance, one that is both noticeable and distinct in those moments when the audience is not interacting with the band.
Teenage girls sway in their pews, Marco abandoning his stall as the mother of the teenage girl in the orange dress abandons her for a toilet break and sliding into the seat behind to exchange whispers and laughs.
I pretend not to be faintly jealous.
Punk Rock 101 is performed with gusto, yet as the evening wears on, I find myself faintly despondent.
It is hard to criticise Bowling for Soup for their dedication to their audience, yet it is also easy to criticise them for the general overlap of their songs, the empty messages of adolescent resentment growing more pronounced and bitter as the material dates.
I am trapped in someone else’s adolescence and I can’t get out, I think solemnly to myself.
Chandler performs a solo track, Tonight’s the Night whilst Reddick visit the toilet, and the set wraps up, following several more songs, with 1985 and the spectacle a young Asian girl in a leather skirt standing up on a pew with her friend to dance, and thus inspiring the entire audience to likewise follow her example.
There are thank yous all round, smiles and contentment, and it is obvious that this is a gig that will make many top ten lists before the last few months of the year crawl around.
I search the crowd for Sarah as the audience moves collectively up the aisles and towards the door and as we enter into the cold night air of North London in mid-October, I think to myself: I am trapped in someone else’s adolescence and I can’t get out.