During its set at House of Blues last night, Sum 41 unleashed balloons into the audience. Flumes of smoke shot feet into the air, reminiscent of cake candles standing tall and burning wildly out of control. There was even a birthday sing-along, though the archaic tune was shoved aside like a weakling in the pit in favor of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
The band’s Houston stop was part of a tour celebrating the 15th anniversary of Does This Look Infected? Front man Deryck Whibley never referred to the show as an anniversary event, preferring to dub it a birthday party. Then he and his bandmates served the cake whole, playing every track on the album, with some tasty icing from Sum 41’s full discography slathered heavily atop it.
Focusing on a single album for an entire tour gives the band a chance to share the details behind the work. Whibley offered some tidbits to Houston Press ahead of the show and more last night. For instance, he said “Fake My Own Death,” from 2016’s 13 Voices, is the completed song born from brainstorming for Infected? a dozen years earlier. He told us Does This Look Infected? - which has been certified Platinum in the band’s home country of Canada and Japan, Gold in the U.S. and Silver in the U.K. – was done within a month’s time. At the time, the band was riding high on the success of All Killer, No Filler and were MTV darlings. Infected? might have succeeded as a follow-up because the band didn’t overthink it.
“We made that record so fucking fast – we made it in like two weeks, we didn’t think about anything, all we thought about was getting back on the road again and playing for you motherfuckers every single night, ‘cause that’s all we care about,” Whibley told the audience. “And, then, here we are – this is all your goddamn fault!”
That sent a roar up, as did word that the band is working on new music. Whibley said they took a respite from that work to hit the road and honor the album on the urging of fans. Last night’s crowd wasn’t disappointed. For one, the guys look great. It was nice to see and especially good to hear guitarist Dave “Brownsound” Baksh back in the Sum 41 mix after a long hiatus. Whibley and bassist Jason “Cone” McCaslin are pushing 40 but retain their boyish looks and charm. Together, they revisited Infected? kicking off the show with its opening track, “The Hell Song,” then bouncing around instead of following the album order religiously because, Whibley reasoned, you’re allowed to do what you want on your birthday.
A thing I’ve always loved about Sum 41 is it never succumbed to the bullshit arguments about what is or is not punk enough to be classified as punk. Their best nose-thumbing of such nonsense is their love for all things metal. “Maiden and Priest were the gods that we praised,” they declared on their first big hit, “Fat Lip,” which appropriately closed the night. They flew their metalhead flags high last night on tracks like “Fake My Own Death.” That one was a was a head-banging good time which gave way to “Hooch,” the last track on Infected?, which is rapid-fire, punk anthem stuff until its tender ending. Back and forth they went, happily dipping into both genres. They ran through a trinity of songs – “A.N.I.C.,” “Never Wake Up,” and “T.H.T.” – which are each breakneck cuts less than a minute long. That’s a punk rock staple. Just as easily, they shredded and wailed on songs like “Mr. Amsterdam,” which Whibley introduced as Sum 41 metal, just after evoking Black Sabbath on snippets of “Paranoid" and "War Pigs.”
Whibley thanked the party-goers for coming to his baby’s birthday. He extended an early invite to the next Houston gathering, presumably to celebrate a newborn’s birth.
“I mean it, we’re coming back next year – so we better see you motherfuckers. And we’ll play everything next year,” he promised.
PERSONAL BIAS: A full circle story. Both my kids are musicians. The first live show they ever saw was Sum 41’s 2002 Houston stop at the Engine Room. The band dubbed that run of club shows the “Sum on Your Face Tour” and there I was, with an 11- and 9-year old in tow. For shame, I know.
My son knew the words to every song on All Killer. Back then, he wasn’t playing music yet, he was a kung fu enthusiast and teenager-in-training, so we played the album front to back, to and from kung fu practice at the Chinese Civic Center. The kids were excited to see the band and they definitely left an impression, as did the opening act, which boasted a frenetic lead singer we couldn’t take our eyes off – it was 30footFall and vocalist Butch Klotz, who told me just last year that Sum 41 didn’t seem to care for his and the band’s energetic antics.
I’m pretty sure there’s a long but direct link to what my kids do onstage now and what 30foot and Sum 41 did that long ago night at Engine Room. My son’s band has now played 30footFall’s legendary Xmas show. Two years ago, his band was on a Canadian festival featuring Sum 41 and he got to chat with Brownsound a bit. Full circle.
THE CROWD: Used to be standing on the corner talkin’ all that kufuffin. Now, sitting in the balcony with kids if they couldn’t find a sitter. A bunch of one-time punks who were happy to get out of the house on a Saturday night after a long week of work. Also, lots of singers. Whether it was a Sum 41 song or a cover, they sang robustly if they knew the words. Kudos for giving this guy spine chills with your choral work on that “War Pigs” cover. “Generals gather in their masses,….!”
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RANDOM NOTEBOOK DUMP: Shout out to our new friends, Fabio, Michael and Dr. Raj. When you’re at a general admission show, standing around for hours, you may meet some interesting folks. This trio of gentlemen made sure that the mosh pit which broke out by the craft brew bar during “Thanks For Nothing” stayed safely away from Mrs. Sendejas (props to Dr. Raj for ultimately joining in the fun). Fabio hails from Brazil and said he was excited to see his first Sum 41 show and bemoaned having to come to the States just to catch certain, beloved acts (looking at you, Rancid). Michael and his wife are dedicated show-goers. They were recently at Foo Fighters and can next be found on the lawn at Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville, seeing Willie Nelson for the first time. When he’s not moshing, Dr. Raj is an actual doctor. He and a group of fellow doctors are considering a podcast which discusses medical matters for Millennials on a lighter note. Keep an ear out for their project, tentatively titled “The Docs of Hazard.”
Sum 41 Set List
The Hell Song
All Messed Up
Never Wake Up
Thanks For Nothing
Over My Head (Better Off Dead)
Paranoid (Black Sabbath cover)
War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover)
Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2 (Pink Floyd cover)
We Will Rock You (Queen cover)
Fake My Own Death