For as long as it’s existed, live music has created a place to belong for countless individuals around the world – so it’s no surprise that Simple Plan, State Champs, and We The Kings teamed up for a tour and collaborative single, they named it “Where I Belong.” The tour kicked off in Richmond, VA in late October, and last week, it made a stop at Sayreville, NJ’s Starland Ballroom for a sold-out show on a cold Monday night.
The show opened with Northbound, a punk-rock project driven by Jonathon Fraser. A longtime friend of State Champs, the Florida native and his backing band have toured regularly for a few years, but his music was still new to most of the crowd. Northbound was a lower-voltage – though equally robust – version of punk-rock than the following acts, but nevertheless warmed up the crowd for the rest of the night.
We The Kings took the stage to a medley of current pop songs, before launching in to “Skyway Avenue” and “She Takes Me High.” Though these songs were a decade old or more (“Skyway Avenue” comes from the band’s 2007 self-titled debut, and “She Takes Me High” was featured on their 2009 sophomore effort, Smile Kid), they played them with the fervent energy and excitement of a group thrilled to share new songs for the first time – something that carried over when they did play a brand new song, “Turn It Up.” Though some of their antics (like asking the crowd to do a “sorority squat” during “I Feel Alive”) felt rehearsed and not entirely authentic, it was hard not to have a good time. “For the next 3 minutes and 31 seconds, what you came to the show for doesn’t matter,” frontman Travis Clark said when introducing the band’s signature song, “Check Yes Juliet.” “I want you to live your best life…. We hope to give you a show you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”
We The Kings
For several years now, State Champs have toured relentlessly, and now – three albums and countless headliners and support runs deep – they’ve perfected their sound and crafted a set that keeps people moving. Their first several songs – “Mine Is Gold”, “All You Are Is History”, and “Lightning” – were a non-stop burst of high-energy, causing fans to crowdsurf from the start. It was on the more melodic throwback tracks “Remedy” and “Elevated” that frontman Derek Discanio’s voice really shone; “Elevated” also featured a guest saxophone performance. It didn’t quite matter if you knew all the words or you’d never heard a State Champs song before; they managed to have the whole room singing along.
Whether you’ve seen Simple Plan a dozen times or it was your first show, it’d be hard to walk away without a good memory. Though their set at Starland Ballroom had plenty of jump-up-and-down, have-a-great-time moments (including set openers “I’d Do Anything” and the aptly-named “Jump”), what makes a Simple Plan show special is the sing-your-heart-out, holy-shit-I’m-not-alone moments. During “Welcome To My Life” and “Your Love Is A Lie”, lead vocalist Pierre Bouvier crossed the stage, making eye contact and connecting with fans in all corners of the room.
Yet as clearly experienced as Simple Plan are in their songwriting and performance, there was an undeniable youthful vibrance and excitement coursing through their set. In between songs like “Boom!” from their newest album – 2016’s Taking One For The Team – Bouvier reminisced about a prior show at Starland, when they were celebrating 15 years of their debut album, No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls. While there were plenty of younger and newer fans in the room, some moments – like playing the Scooby Doo theme song, “What’s New Scooby Do” – were more for the older crowd. The band recounted being famous for two things: for being “the Scooby Doo” band, and for saying the word “dick” on the radio in their hit single “Addicted.”
Drummer Chuck Comeau was eager to play more songs from No Pads – something that bassist David Desrosiers joked was “pretty ballsy” – leading the band to play a surprise deep cut, “The Worst Day Ever.” Though they were only a few shows in to the tour, Bouvier assured the crowd that Sayreville was “by far the funnest show”; and while their hometown of Montreal was well-known for strip clubs and had a drinking age of 18, New Jersey had beautiful coastline and beaches, “so I wanna stay here.” It was an appropriate segue to “Summer Paradise”, during which Desrosiers played electronic percussion and giant beach balls were tossed into the crowd.
There were plenty of “fast punk rock songs” in Simple Plan’s set like “Thank You”, “Shut Up”, and “Where I Belong”, for which Discanio and Clark joined the band on stage. But interspersed between those were the more emotional moments: when Bouvier took to the crowd for “Crazy”, he said the only reason they’re still doing this is because of all their fans. Returning to the stage for an encore of “I’m Just A Kid”, Comeau – who’d soon jump off the front of the stage and crowdsurf, while Bouvier took his place on drums – shared that New Jersey was “where it all started for Simple Plan in the US… this is the first place we had fans in the USA.”
Before their closing song “Perfect”, Bouvier asked some fans to come up on stage with them to take a picture. He began “Perfect” acoustic, lighters and cell phones lit up in the crowd, the rest of his bandmates joining later in the song. Simple Plan have ended their shows this way for years- and each time, it feels just as special as the first. The acoustic-into-full-band version of “Perfect” is tradition now, as much a reflection a strained parental relationship as it is a relief to know things can get better, and a reminder that if you’ve ever felt lost, confused, or left out, at a Simple Plan show, you have a place to belong.
Molly Hudelson is a music journalist and photographer who won't shut up about the bands she loves. When she's not at a show, camera (and knee brace) in hand, she's rambling about Degrassi or hanging out with her dog.