Sunday, 12 January 2014

Home For The Holidays

As my current contract for work has finished, and with no new job on the horizon, i figured it would be pretty apt to spend my last holiday of the past 2 ½ years heading to Asbury Park for Xmas to see The Bouncing Souls on their home turf.

WARNING:  This blog might contain elements that only Bouncing Souls fans will understand!

Seeing  the Souls on their home turf has been something i’ve wanted to do for a couple of years now.  I figured i’d aim to do the trip in 2014, but when the job finished, i checked into flights on the offchance. Prices were good – especially flying on Xmas Day – so i leapt at the chance to go to Home For The Holidays this year instead.

Basically – the band play The Stone Pony in Asbury Park (New Jersey) 4 times between 26th – 29th Dec, with a different set list each night (selected by theme), a bunch of different supports, with 4 aftershow gigs and daytime events happening all week.

As for Asbury Park, what a great place. Once i got to mooch round it on Boxing Day, i loved it immediately. Theres not much to it though – a wicked beach, a boardwalk, a few bars and venues, a couple of nice lakes, and one street of bars, restaurants, shops and coffee shops. The whole route from the hotel to the station took around 15 minutes to walk. I only used a cab on Xmas Day.

It seems like the area east of the train line (the beach side) is being renovated. A lot of the area surrounding the beach front is flat – I’m assuming ready to build holiday homes on. The main street with the restaurants on (Cookman Ave) is kinda quaint, and was a nice place to hang out – was fun not having to walk very far between bars and places to eat!

Every day i had breakfast in an awesome place called Toast. It was the first place i passed in town on Boxing Day, and had a great menu, so i thought “sod it, I’ll go in here” as I was starving. Best idea ever. Food was amazing, and the place was staffed by cute tattooed waitresses and bearded tattooed waiters – had a real punk rock vibe to the place. I had initial hiccups with my accent to start with (“taMAHtoh joose? Whats that? We don’t do that. Oh, TOMAYDO JUICE!”), but once they realised i was English, there were no problems understanding me. The place had a great atmosphere, and really friendly staff, loved it.

The other place i frequented was a pizza bar called Porta. I ended up here three times over the four days. Cheap beer, massive pizzas, great atmosphere and more punky waiting staff. It was the closest place to eat and drink to The Stone Pony and most people ended up here at least twice over the week. Highly recommended.

I wasn’t alone either while i was out there. I managed to meet up with some US friends of mine that i’ve got to know over the past couple of years. First was my friend Bob from North Carolina, who i met when I saw the Souls in Vienna. I’ve seen him at the odd Souls show over the past three years, and was great to get to hang out with him for a couple of days. Another contingent of people i knew i shall refer to as “The Girls” – Kara, Marla, Shannon and Maria. They pretty much came as a ready-made unit, and were a blast the entire time we were there. They gave me lifts and looked after me, making sure i wasn’t left on my own for too long. I don’t recall us ever getting particularly drunken at any point, but it was cool having them around for the whole week.

25th DEC
I flew out of Heathrow to Newark on Xmas Day. Had breakfast with my buddy that works at Heathrow that morning (which we did when i started my 4 month trip back in 2011), then took the 8 hour flight to Newark. Pretty event free – slept a bit, watched some films, ate some food. Arrived at Newark, had a relatively easy immigration experience, then found the train to get to Asbury Park.

The train ride was pretty interesting. Was great getting to see parts of America i’d normally not see. Every small town we passed reminded me of Haddonfield from the Halloween films. As the stations got smaller and sketchier, i switched at Long Branch to get to Asbury Park. By this point, it was dark, cold, and taxis were few and far between at each station. Was wondering what was gonna happen at Asbury Park, as i had no idea of the area!

Needn’t have worried. There were cabs available. Jumped in the first cab, managed to make myself understood, and the cabbie took off for the hotel. Within seconds, the front passenger door opened and a massive drunk “gansta” got in and demanded to be taken to “8th Avenue, someone owes me some money”. I had no clue what was going on, esp as I was sitting in the back with a bag full of holiday cash! The two guys argued a bit, and luckily the cab guy had managed to get to the hotel and drop me off while they were still arguing. Jumped out and checked in. Welcome to Asbury Park!

I stayed at the Berkeley Oceanfront. Nice enough hotel – big rooms, clean and modern bathrooms, pretty pleased considering Asbury Park sea front is pretty much a ghost town. Hung around for a bit, then received a text from Pete (guitarist from the Souls) – i was invited to his Xmas Night party over at his house in Neptune City!

It was a slightly more pleasant cab over to Petes, via a liquor store. Pete lived in a very nice, Haddonfield-esque neighbourhood, complete with houses competing for the best Xmas lights. Walk into the house, and found i was one of the first there, along with 6 other guests. Turned out this was a bonus as i got lots of things sorted before the party got busy. Among the guests at this point were Lamar Vannoy and his girlfriend. I hadn’t seen Lamar since Vienna, and he seemed visibly shocked and pleased to see me, as I was him. Was so great getting to see him again, and he and Tina (his girlfriend) kept me company on and off over the week. I also got to meet new Souls drummer George Rebelo and his girlfriend – haven’t seen George since the Draft 2007 tour. He was a friendly dude, and i was pleased to get to know him over the 4 days. Finally, there was an English dude and his wife, both friends of Petes. It seems Pete had told this guy I was coming, and we immediately had a lot to talk about. Lewis (and his wife Sara) became invaluable over the week, but more of that later. Put it this way, meeting him was a mega bonus, and i owe him lots of beers.

Spent most of the eve drinking beer and chatting to whoever was available. Lewis gave me a lot of advice of where to go and where to avoid (don’t cross the train tracks and you’ll be fine!), and through him lined up a few things to check out over the next few days. Youth Brigade wandered in and freaked me out for a second, but as was expected, they are the nicest guys – chatted to Mark and Shaun a fair bit this eve, but got to meet up with the bassist and guitarist a few times later in the week. Was also fun to meet a few more of the “Souls Family” from their DVD – Lamar introduced me to Matty O’Brien and Rob Santello (both great dudes who took the time to hang out and chat whenever i bumped into them), and the Souls local photographer, Mike McLaughlin. It was cool to catch up with DJ (the bands 5th member - my guitar tech, haha!) again. Eventually Bryan (Souls bassist) showed up – we had a quick catch up and a beer, then he quietly disappeared after an hour or so.

I’d been up 24 hours by the time i left at midnight. To be honest, the party was making my head spin, and figured i should go back to the hotel and try and get some sleep!

26th DEC
Woke up EARLY – so got ready and went out for a walk with my new knowledge of the area. Spent the morning taking photos of everything i could – the Boardwalk, the beach, the venues i’d be going to – and wandered into “town”. Which basically took me 10 minutes and literally was just two roads. Walked past the first shop, the aforementioned Toast, and had a massive breakfast. 

The hotel didn’t have working wifi when i arrived, and didn’t for another day, so i took the time to use the wifi at Toast. Once i finished breakfast, and had a chat with the very friendly server lady, popped across the road to Cafe Volan, the coffee shop where Lewis worked. Figured i’d get a coffee and use their wifi as well (as suggested by Lewis the previous night). Instead, he joined me for a coffee, then took me sightseeing (and drinking) for the day until the gig started. I was so stunned and so grateful of this gesture – i figured i’d be sitting on my own getting pissed until the gigs started!

Before the show, we ended up at Porta. Lewis’s wife worked there and he knew everyone. Had a few beers and a pizza, and hung out for a few hours, basically being the only Brits celebrating Boxing Day! I'd also arranged to meet most of the people i was gonna be meeting up with over the week, so i hung around for everyone to appear. Bob arrived and joined us for a beer, then i got a text from Pete asking where i was. Two minutes later, Pete runs in the restaurant, hands me a 4 day, all access laminate pass for the gigs, then shoots off again. To say i was gobsmacked is an understatement. I really can’t thank Pete and Kate (Souls manager) enough for this – it meant i got to sell a couple of my tickets, and basically gave me run of the town. Hopefully i didn’t take the piss – i tried not to! The manager from Toast turned up with her boyfriend, and knowing Lewis, hung out with us for an hour or so. Finally, another of our group, Megan and her british husband-to-be popped in for a few minutes. Bumped into these guys a lot over the week!

Met up with The Girls at the hotel then headed to the gig. The Stone Pony is an awesome little venue. 600-ish capacity, small and cosy, full of history (lots of photos of bands that have played there adorn the walls, along with plenty of signed guitars).

The gig is a bit of a blur. First band on were Lost In Society, and they were great, really enjoyed their set. The Souls took to the stage eventually, and i settled in side-stage, alongside about 30 other guests. Set was really random, having been written by some of their old mates (Kate and Tim Chunks i think). Lots of random songs i haven’t heard for ages, like Old School, Bryans Lament, Lay Em Down, 80s Movies, No Rules, Late Bloomer and Midnight Mile. Gig was great – not the best time i’d seen them – but i was looking forward to the other 3 nights and seeing what else they had to throw at us.

After the show, headed to the Asbury Lanes aftershow party and had a couple of beers. Asbury Lanes is an awesome little venue/bowling alley – theres a stage in the middle with three bowling lanes on each side! Chatted with my mate from North Carolina, and bumped into someone else i’d met in Birmingham on the Souls tour in March (random). Watched a couple bands, got introduced to more people, but was crashing hard – so gave up and went to bed around 1am!

27th DEC
Day three and second night of HFTH. Got up early again and went to Toast for exactly the same breakfast as yesterday. Got recognised by one of the servers and had a little chat with them, which was nice. Was nice being made to feel welcome in this little town – everyone was so friendly.

Got a lift over to Neptune Tattooville studio with The Girls to see if i could maybe get a tattoo from Bryan. The shop was doing their annual 4 day charity flash sale, and would have loved to have got something done – but to be honest, Bryan was ridiculously busy, and i don’t really have the space left on me. As much as it would have been great to get something, maybe its something for another time. Kara and Marla got a couple of tattoos sorted – meanwhile i had a nose around the shop, got a tshirt, then headed back into town. Had a beer at the local bar called the Brickwall Tavern, which did the strongest craft beers i’ve ever seen – i settled for a Yeungling Lager, the local brew (which is a bit like Brooklyn Lager). Then headed over to Porta again to meet up with The Girls post-tattoo and have some dinner before Gregs (Souls singer) pre-gig art show at the Lanes.
Was cool to see the Lanes during the day with not many people there. Its very retro and groovy. Gregs show was cool – he was exhibiting a bunch of his Asbury Park art. Bought a set of postcards and managed to get a decent chat with Greg (who is usually very elusive!).

Night #2 was pretty cracking. First band on were The Brigantines, a local punk/surf band, complete with twangy guitars. Main support was Molly And The Zombies – Brian Fallon from Gaslight Anthems new band. Really enjoyed these guys – i’m guessing its been a while since Brian has done a gig this small, and he was relishing the opportunity. Watched the band from side-stage and enjoyed them thoroughly. The backstage area was populated by family members and was pretty packed, and before the encore, Petes dad came onstage to say a few words about the guys.

Souls set on night two was better than night one, and they kicked it up a gear as well. New drummer George played a blinder and yet again the set was completely different to the first night. This nights a bit vague, but Joe Lies, Sounds Of The City, No Security, Lamar Vannoy, and I Like Your Mom were in the set (the past two appeared most nights). We were also treated to Bryans Lament again, which is a track that rarely gets an outing. They played Ballad Of Johnny X tonight, with the added bonus of Johnny X on guitar. We also got a guest in Lou from Sick Of It All singing on a cover of “Good Lookin’ Out” – i didn’t recognise him at first, but couldn’t mistake the voice once he started! For the encore, the fellas all swapped instruments and played The Damned's "Love Song". I've seen em swap before when they did "Folsom Prison Blues" in Amsterdam - its always fun seeing Pete bash away on the drums!

Evening ended at The Wonder Bar afterparty (giving Asbury Lanes a break). Managed to stay awake and last till chucking out time at 2am, having beers with a couple of my pre-mentioned mates, and having a chat with Matty and Wig (old friends of The Souls), Lewis again, and Dave, ex of Sum 41 – now in the Organ Thieves. Also managed a brief catch up with the band and Kate – then buggered off to bed, slightly tiddly but happy.

Wanted a lie in for tomorrow – but got turfed out of the hotel at 3am when some idiot let off a fire extinguisher. Great, that made my night.

28th DEC
Woke up early again, and what with the 2am bedtime and 3am wake up call, turned out i only had 5 hours sleep.

Went to Toast again with The Girls, then headed to the Punk Rock Flea Market at the VFW Hall. This was a fun morning – lots of locals selling records, dvds and various bits of paraphernalia and brick-a-brack, with Pete DJing. As i can’t play records, i was done pretty much after the first walk around. But was a blast listening to Pete playing the tunes, as he was picking tune after tune – FEAR, Adolescents, Damned, The Clash, Ramones, The Beat, The Specials. Was awesome! Briefly caught up with Pete, DJ and Kate, then had a wander round town, ready to catch Filmage, the Descendents movie at the local cinema. Been wanting to see this for ages, and it didn’t disappoint. I was absolutely gobsmacked when i left – i wasn’t really sure how to process what i had just seen. Quite frankly it put me off-kilter for most of the evening, and its only a few days later than I’ve managed to taken in how awesome this film was. I need to see it again, thats for sure.

Headed over to The Stone Pony for the afternoon as Kate has suggested i go to the Souls soundhceck and Meet-n-Greet. I wasn’t sure if it was worth me going, but i went along anyway. Decided to see what i could get away with, and used my backstage pass to get in the venue and actually see the soundcheck, while everyone stood outside in the cold. Felt a bit bad about that, but i was cold and knackered. Met up with Lewis and chilled out in a corner, while everyone else got their posters signed by the band. Needing food, headed over to Wonderbar for a beer and burger, as i was really in need of some MEAT! Got served by more of the nicest people ever, and was back at the venue before the doors opened.

Night three was my favourite, but also my hardest night to cope with. Organ Thieves opened and they were ace, but i lost interest in seeing anyone else by the time they finished. I grabbed a beer and propped myself up at the side of the stage, and more or less fell asleep standing up. Kate even suggested i should go and have a sleep in the band room, but luckily i didn’t  - Rob Santello said he’d just keep waking me up! Vaguely enjoyed Titus Andronicus (the headline support – kinda like a 90s indie Fucked Up), but managed to wake up for The Souls. DJ let me sit on the other side of the stage so i could watch from Petes side, and actually see George drumming (as opposed to seeing the top of his head from Bryans stage side), and the band played a BLINDER. This was my gig of the weekend, regardless of how shit i felt. They pulled out all the stops – Gold Song, Gone, Dubs Says True, Fast Times, Bullying The Jukebox (man, i wish they played this more often!), Kate Is Great, Born To Lose (not seen this live for YEARS), and closed the set with an epic Comet. One of My Chemical Romance played onstage with them during True Believers, and they played Code Blue by T.S.O.L.George was on fire tonight, and they were the tightest they would be all week. Amazing stuff.

One of the funniest things – Pete knocked his beer over DJs keyboards and broke them. DJ then played the keyboards through an app on his iphone. Genius.

After the show, i went to bed. I missed the aftershow and crashed out!

29th DEC
Felt much better this morning after a full 8 hours sleep, but woke up to pissing rain. Fantastic. Walked to Toast and had my usual breakfast. I had company today – at least three of the staff had a sit down and had a chat with me while i was eating! These people are just so friendly, and was funny to find out a couple of the staff had been at all the Souls shows so far as well.

The mornings event was DJs Brunch at the Watermark, a cocktail bar on the beach front. Basically DJ played lots of English punk/alternative/indie bands while everyone had brunch. I’d eaten already, so settled for a Sprite and joined The Girls for a bit. Then i got called over to another table, where Toasts manager was sitting. So i joined her and her boyfriend for the afternoon, and had a few beers while I was at it!

Next up was Mike McLaughlins photography show at Russo Music. Got a lift down with DJ and pitched up at this awesome music shop to see some acoustic acts and look at some awesome Souls photos. Mike GAVE me one of the big A3 photos, had a long chat with Matty O’Brien, and got to watch Greg from The Souls, Chris from Flatliners, Brian from Plow United and Dave Hause play an acoustic show in the shop. Special stuff.

Had another pizza at Porta, then headed over to The Stone Pony for night 4. Watched the first support again (Restorations) who were great, then headed backstage again, and spent most of the night chinwagging with Lamar and few others I’d met over the week – until a drunk girl accosted me and kinda messed that up. Luckily i escaped from her (she was mental) and headed back to watch The Souls. Sat on Petes side again, and thoroughly enjoyed the final night. They were a bit rough around the edges tonight, playing a couple of songs they obviously hadn’t rehearsed (BoogieWoogie Downtown and Whatever I Want)! However, it was cool to get Better Things and We’re Coming Back dedicated to me by Greg, Pete and Bryan – mainly cos both songs were done by British bands originally! Set opened with Hopeless Romantic, and Serenity, Baptized, Gasoline all got outings this evening.

Head back to the Lanes for the final night Afterparty where Souls Merch Guy Matts band, Spinal Ramones, were playing. They played alternate Misfits and Ramones songs, and were great – far better than The Misfits are these days! As this was the final night, everyone was in party mode. Bryan even showed for this one and was in good spirits when I finally caught up with him. Spent the final night bumping into people i’d met all week – chatted tattoos and Hot Snakes with the guitarist and bassist from Youth Brigade, caught up with Lamar and Tina, and had another great chat with Greg and his awesome wife Shanti. Everyone was having a blast and was a fantastic night. Got to hang out with The Girls for one last time – eventually they all sloped off to bed, leaving me and Maria downing the Yeunglings, getting our drunk on and shouting along to the hilarious goth disco. Was a shame the venue closed at 2am, cos I was finally awake after 5 days of scary jetlag!

30th DEC
Final day. Checked out, had my final breakfast at Toast (which ended up being a freebie), said goodbye to the lovely people that had served me all week, and went for a final beer in Brickwall.

Then i got a lift to the airport, and caught the flight home.

Now its 2014 and i gotta get on with proper life stuff now. This was a fitting end to my two and half years of behaving like a nutcase, I absolutely loved Asbury Park - its not a huge place, and theres not a heck of a lot to do there. But i was treated well, I didn't spend the trip on my own, i met some great people, and got to spend my last trip of 2013 in a very friendly place. I don't think I've ever been somewhere so small with such a sense of community - i like my big cities usually. but this was an incredible change of pace - apart from the relentless punk rock shows! To be able to fall out of bed, walk along the beach, and then go to a nice, friendly bar or restaurant filled with tattooed people, all within a 10 minute walk, was amazing. Thanks to everyone that looked after me - it was a blast. I will be back.

me outside Asbury Lanes
The Stone Pony
Asbury Lanes
me in front of the Souls billboard!