The Bouncing Souls used to be terrible. Take a listen to their b-side collection, The Bad, the Worse, and the Out of Print, and you will hear what I mean. The demo songs collected there are pretty much unlistenable. It's not a mystery why they waited for five years before releasing their first full-length record in 1994.
Yet, the phrase "used to be" is the important one in that description. There's a reason why they are not terrible anymore. Judging by their recent performance at Neumo's to celebrate their 20th anniversary as a band, the reason is pretty simple: they don't care what you think, they're going to do what they want to do and have fun doing it.
I saw The Bouncing Souls for the first time in 1996. At a small venue with red lights and stucco walls in my sleepy, oceanside college town, they won me over. At that time, the singer, Greg, had a penchant for pointing his finger straight up in the air while singing, as if to say, "and one more thing...." His lyrical delivery was, and always will be, best described as lackadaisical. Often just a little off-time and a little off-key, it was somehow inspirational in a way that perfect singers aren't. His vocals tell us that we can do the same if we wanted to, whereas the pitch-perfect singers remind us just how bad at singing we are.
At that phase in the band's life, they were still making silly songs and doing great covers. Their version of "Born to Lose," the amazing Ray Charles song, is by far their best cover. My dad always gets a kick out of the off-key "blue" in the song that is corrected with a "blue, that is" in the right key. Their sets included songs about girls at the Quik Check, about their favorite 80s movies, about your mom, and sing-along anthems with lyrics like "Here we go, here we go, here we go."
As the band got older, they added more serious material to their records. How I Spent My Summer Vacation, their fifth full-length, is almost completely devoid of silliness. Yet, by growing up, they had also become better musicians. They crafted catchy songs with poignant lyrics for those of us who were just starting to face up to our responsibilities and find some meaning and reason to life.
Their 20th Anniversary Tour stopped in at Neumo's this week and featured a wide variety of songs. However, they would not, no matter how many times people yelled it out, play "Quik Check Girl" or "These Are the Quotes From Our Favorite 80s Movies." We did get "Here We Go" and "Born to Lose" from their second record and "Hopeless Romantic" from their fourth record, but it was clear that the NJ quartet was going to play what they wanted, just like they have from the beginning. They included new songs ("It's alright guys, this is a good song") as well as many favorites, showing they have no intention of stopping soon.
This dedication and persistence make the Bouncing Souls an inspiration to all aspiring musicians and their sheer love of music and joy for what they do is inspiring to every audience they play for. It's easy to get sucked in by their fast-paced and fun songs. And if you can hook onto that "I don't care what you think, I'm going to do what I want" attitude, you might even end up dancing around in the mosh pit, even though your age starts with a 3 and not a 1, until your leg cramps up. You'll be singing along and pointing your finger straight up, "...a song played on the radio/it went straight to my heart/I carried it with me/until the darkness was gone...."