I love away trips to Kingston. The place has got such a small town, outsider feel. Like a cool version of Pietermaritzburg, back in South Africa. This is especially evident when tonight’s crowd sings along wildly to System of A Down’s “Toxicity” and Papa Roach’s perennial hit, “Last Resort.” I haven’t seen dudes undo their ponytails and headbang like that since Maritzburg. But tonight, we’re here to celebrate the nostalgic rebirth of Canadian punk rockers Sum 41. Unless you’re one of the 14 year olds posting Instagram Stories. Then you’re just a giddy, contemporary music fan.
Over the course of the past two decades, Sum 41 have gone from small town, Ajax, Ontario pop-punk heroes to world-dominating stadium rockers. So tonight’s show, at the comparatively tiny Kingston Hippodrome, is something special. When I breeze in and almost bump into the stage, I can’t believe quite how small it is. I spot a balcony just above me, climb the staircase and secure an awesome vantage point to drink it all in.
Gut-wrenching St. Albans pop punkers Trash Boat are halfway through their blistering opening set. The pace is full-throttle, but the band still saves time for classically brooding, late ’90s/early 2000s emo sentiment – like reading “letters… kept safe,” and “bleeding on this page.” Does anyone, other than my mum, still write letters? Drummer Oakley Moffatt is especially impressive, as is singer Tobi Duncan’s scream/sing mic control. But Trash Boat’s half hour of power is up. It’s time for the main course.
I still remember Sum 41’s classic MTV Cribs episode, filmed on location at former drummer Stevo32’s parent’s house. Now, listen up kids. This was before YouTube and online streaming, so I had to tape it on VHS to show it to friends. Obviously, the band’s come a long way since then, taking in singer Deryck Whibley’s notorious boozing problems and near-death experience, as well as various member changes. Tonight, though, they’re almost back to that original lineup, plus third guitarist Tom Thacker and newish drummer Frank Zummmo. But it wouldn’t have been the same without original guitarist Dave “Brownsound” Baksh. So glad he’s back.
Sum 41 breeze on stage at 9:00pm sharp, to AC/DC’s “TNT,” and I have to say, I’m a little starstruck. Especially when they launch into “The Hell Song” – I think I downloaded the music video from Punk Rock Vids and watched it a hundred times. Straight afterwards, the set’s contemporised by new single “Fake My Own Death.” Zummo is immense behind Sum 41’s signature two bass drums. A proper athlete, backed up by his marathon-runner’s energy drink and Zummo-branded drummer’s vest.
Tonight’s definitely special and sum 41 feel it too. Turns out they were meant to have the day off, before their big headlining show at Brixton Academy tomorrow night. But somehow, as they do, Banquet Records talked them into playing this one-off special intimate show for the fans. And to celebrate, Sum 41 have loaded their set with hits from the vault.
“This feels like when we started the band, in ’97 or ’98, in East Toronto,” says Whibley, introing “What I Believe.” “This song’s off Half Hour of Power, and I don’t think we’ve played it since Half Hour of Power.”
After the song, the spiky-haired frontman takes some time out to talk Trump, rebranding “Sick of Everyone” as “Sick of Trump.” The song’s from the band’s Brownsound-less, My Chemical Romance-ish, Screaming Bloody Murder phase, and as such, not one I’m familiar with. But it’s followed by “Fat Lip,” which gets the biggest cheer of the night.
The crowd’s literally throbbing. Bouncing in unison to the 16-year-old song that sounds as fresh as the day it was written. I spot Banquet Records’ Jon Tolley up front, catching crowd surfers and escorting them to safety. Earlier I’d seen him carrying barriers and even a mixing desk. The guy works hard, and Banquet Records truly lives its “more than your local record store” mantra.
To most people, Sum 41’s a pop punk band mentioned alongside Blink 182, New Found Glory and Good Charlotte. But if you know them, and look beyond their breakout singles, they’re full-blown shredders. Brownsound’s solos are NUTS! The very definition of face-melting. And finally, I get Rancid guitarist Lars Frederiksen’s expression “knuckle tight.”
Sum 41 end their set with “In Too Deep,” followed by the most predictable encore in the history of rock ‘n roll. And finally, after a quick blast through “Over My Head (Better Off Dead),” they’re done. What a night. I’m still tingling as step outside, into the welcome embrace of the cold winter air and head for the station.