Gig Review: Bowling For Soup / Less Than Jake / Vandoliers – O2 Academy, Glasgow (22nd February 2024)

Another year, another celebration for Bowling For Soup. This year marks their 30th anniversary and to celebrate they undertook their largest, in terms of people rocking out to them, UK tour to date. They sold out every single date, added an additional Manchester show (which also sold out) and on the night I am typing this up are playing their largest ever headline show at an arena in Cardiff. For myself, this was the third time seeing them with my eldest after seeing them with her younger sister on the last pass through.

Opening on the tour are country punks Vandoliers, a band I don’t think I’ve encountered before though many in the audience definitely had. Six band members strode onto the stage like they owned it, and they they proceeded to own the next 30 minutes. I grabbed the setlist from setlist.fm for reference, and they’ll definitely be an act I’m checking out again.

They managed to cram eight songs into their set along with a whole lot of fun and personality. Armed with guitars (acoustic and electric), bass, saxophone, trumpet, keys, fiddle, drums and multiple vocals they are a hugely talented act and great fun to watch. They obviously have a whale of a time performing and that enthusiasm is infectious. The songs, from “Rolling Out” through to “Every Saturday Night”, were bouncy and catchy, and delivered with incredible energy.

Less Than Jake (c) Charlotte Martin

Wrapping things up at the end was a cover of The Proclaimers’ “5oo Miles” which the Scottish crowd really got into, though I do note they practiced it at all the dates south of the border first!

Both myself and my daughter were pretty enthused about them by the end of their short set. Ones to keep an eye out for the next time they head our way.

That last time I saw Less Than Jake was six years ago, at the same venue, and supporting Reel Big Fish. Since then they’ve released one new album, Silver Linings, and two songs from it made their way onto tonight’s setlist. Counterpointing those two was “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts” from their first album release, Pezcore. Wrapping it all up was a big doze of bouncy pop-punk lunacy.

The band made full use of the stage, and ploughed through their hour’s allotted time with a mixture of classic pop punk and silliness. I’m not sure if some of Chris DeMakes’ jokes genuinely fell flat or if he was just expecting a bigger response, but the large parts of the crowd ate the show up and a significant number were definitely there to see Floridian fivesome. One group of gents a few steps in front of us were going bonkers like a bunch of teenagers, which was a joy to see!

Even with the breaks to chat to the audience, the show seemed to fly past with two albums-worth of music being thrown in our faces. A funky blend of pop-punk and ska, they played with professionalism but made it look easy. For some reason I never jumped on board the Less Than Jake train over the years, but I do enjoy a little blast of them now and then. This was one enjoyable blast.

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Bowling For Soup must be one of the bands I’ve seen more times than most. The first time was, I think, Download back in the early noughties. Since moving back to the UK after a few years’ gap I’ve only missed one tour, and that was through illness (and it was a bloody good lineup, dammit). Despite being an anniversary show there was no real focus in terms of the setlist, and we got a great selection of classic material along with shit jokes and the band taking the piss out of each other.

Bowling For Soup (c) Charlotte Martin

The opening salvo of “Emily” and “My Wena” complete with random live footage of the crowd had the place rocking and singing along. “Out The Window” was one of those classics that we don’t hear on every tour. “Ohio” which followed is often one of those tracks that the band like to mess with as it’s a pretty permanent fixture. This time around the “twist” was the song being finished by Vandoliers who had walked on stage for a quick beer. Giving credit to your support is one thing, making them part of the show is something else… and not uncommon BFS behaviour.

While the rocket blasts and fast-paced lyrics of “Rock Show”, “Punk Rock 101” and “High School Never Ends” are as fun as ever, the highlight of the show was probably a throat-closing moment after “Turbulence”. Bowling For Soup write from experience, and a lot of their own lives are intertwined in the lyrics – something they’re open about and the band have answered our questions about many little references in past interviews. With that in mind, and the time at which it was written, I often feel that “Turbulence” was a song written by Jaret (and Linus) for Jaret. It’s simultaneously sad and uplifting. The viewpoint is that of someone who’s going through a really bad patch but trying to convince themselves as muvh as anyone else that it’s going to be alright.

Tonight, the song being sung back to him hit Jaret right in the feels. As he said on stage and again on Instagram later, he hasn’t cried on stage before. At the end of the song, Rob gave him a massive hug and I think we were all there with a mental one as well. It’s a great song, one that sits apart from the upbeat silliness that they’re more famed for, and tonight it really earned its spot on the set list.

Not to let a moment of emotion get them down, the final three songs were more of this traditional fare including a hugely welcomed rendition of “1985” as the encore. I don’t think there was a non-raw throat in the building from singing along by the time the streamers settled and the band left the stage.

I also have to say that it’s great seeing Gary back behind the drums, after his illness shortly after the Glasgow date on the last tour. And a shoutout to Chris for yet another top notch t-shirt. Municipal Waste tonight. Sir, we salute you!

Thirty years in, still singing songs about real life, making us laugh… and sometimes cry. Bowling For Soup almost crashed and burned some years ago, and I’m so glad that they picked it up and kept on going. They’ve been there for me, and being there for them with several thousand others tonight was every bit the party we’ve come to expect.

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Photos by Charlotte Emily Photography (apologies to Vandoliers – memory card issues meant we didn’t get any shots of them)

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