The Punching Pandas [Live Music Review]

As an animal rights advocate, I’d be willing to punch a panda for an experience like I had…

I think it was about two years ago when I met Joe and first heard a band existed by the name of the Punching Pandas.  Picture it:  Wooly’s, 2019, and lo and behold, I was amongst other fans of Los Lonely Boys.  But, there were many fans more fanatical than me.  Rumor has it, a member of the Punching Pandas has a Los Lonely Boys tattoo.  In speaking with a couple members of the Punching Pandas, I was encouraged to check them out.

So, here we are two years later.  And, I see another Facebook invite that I am not sure I can attend with my schedule.  And, after a pandemic that put a damper on live music for far too long, there was a slight sting that I would go yet another week of my life without knowing what I am missing.  I think the youngsters these days classify is at “FOMO”?

A weekend road trip was foiled, and we were staying in for our kid-free weekend.  So, Saturday, we did the hippest thing we could think of and spent more than we budgeted at Menard’s for items that required us to do projects we never would really have the motivation to do.  As a busy afternoon comes to a close, and we look at the two boxes of ceramic tile and bag of mortar sitting in front of our fireplace – we decide to crack open a drink.

Then, as a rite of passage as we enter our twilight years, we sit and visit with my truly hip daughter who recently moved to Iowa City.  As she leaves, I assume we are about to call it a night and retire for a wild night in the bedroom.  You know, when you adjust the bed to the perfect position to binge watch your show and maybe partake in a few snacks.  Then, I subtly mention the Punching Pandas are at Brick and Ivy, where my fiancé, Mark, installed some doors.

Now, I expected – and was going to be okay with – a reply from my fiancé that it was a long day and bedtime sounded good.  I was shocked to my core to hear, “I’d be down to go check them out.”  In five minutes, I was live music ready!

After telling Mark how I met the (please, pronounce that one as “thee” when you read it, for the right effect) Joe Coons and fellow members, I got a little nervous.  What if I go there, fight my way through the groupies, for them to be like, “That girl looks familiar, but I can’t remember where?  Maybe she put on a few pounds?  Maybe I saw her working the McDonald’s drive-thru?”  How would I continue to portray myself as the cool cat I am, to Mark?  Would he call off the engagement?  What did I get myself into?!?

So, I walk on in.  And, the music is awesome.  We grab a drink, find a spot, and realize from where I am sitting, I cannot get any good shots.  I get on my feet, and go up close to get some shots.  And, there was the moment.  You know, when someone sees you and their look tells you, “Hey!  I remember you!”?  Whew.  I do not need to fret about returning to match.com.

I love live music.  Almost any and all live music.  Mark has a more “sophisticated” (that’s French for picky) palate.  I’ve learned to take it with a grain of salt when I take him to live music that isn’t quite his jam.  Well, call me a monkey’s uncle, and slap my ass like a newborn baby – he was diggin’ it!  And, that’s not all, folks.  He was so nuts about it, he threw out my (cool, if I must say so myself) idea to have dueling pianos at our wedding reception, and is now insisting I bargain to get the (can you do that “thee” thing one more time, please?”) Punching Pandas!

I don’t think I painted the right picture.  Let me back up to the point when we walked in.  We walked in assuming Violent Femmes were in the house at the start of the chorus, “Let me go onnnnnn…!”  Well, hot damn!  I’m not even going to say it, but I am pushing every last chip to the center of the table already.

Moving on in the set list, was one of several songs performed from that night, I remember clear as day.  Now, I am not old enough (although I may have led you astray thinking I was 90 with everything before this part) to say I am old enough to have been filmed on Name That Tune, but I could have named that tune in THREE notes (I just dropped my mic, folks).  Everybody Talks is distinguished in its own way.  If you’re being honest, know all the words, and remember when it was released in 2011 – then, you know you replayed it over and over or googled the lyrics to learn the right words.  So, as you were playing the song, and saying the words via google over and over, it was stuck in your head.  But is that the only reason it stuck in your head?  No.  It was catchy.  And outside of the beat, what made it catchy?  The energy!  Punching Pandas brought the energy and delivered it perfectly.  Oh, and with that live performance trick of pausing while the crowd finishes the words (a couple of people did not care to learn the words back in 2011, by the way).

It didn’t stop there.  The ensemble was comprised of your standard lead vocals and guitar, drums, and bass.  But, wait, there’s more!  Johnny Mo Luna is on trumpet, congas, and vocals.  Johnny really shows Neon Trees what energy looks like from start to finish!  John Luna (no, not a typo from the previously mentioned) was killing it on the trombone and with vocals.  Then, there’s Jeff Daniels with his “I’m not here for a long time, but I came for a good time” attitude on the keyboard/organ.  Ladies, you like that dark, silent, handsome type?  Well, I am not sure if he is single, but Joe Luna nailed it as bass.  And, who tells the band what do to (in terms of pacing themselves)?  Jesse Gomez!

What makes a live music band one you want to see again?  For me, I don’t think the bar is set too high – hit the notes, bring the energy that matches what you play, engage the crowd, and make people want to rock in their seat, get on their feet, and/or DANCE!  Much like the guy I met when I swiped right – this checked all the right boxes.  Then, if you’re like me, you have those bonus boxes.  Those bonus boxes were checked and I still ended up having to write in a couple new categories for future live bands to be measured against!

Lead vocals and guitar, Joe Coons, has “it”.  That rare stage presence that pulls the entire crowd.  That quick wit, charisma, and hilarity that leaves you saying, “Okay, I can text the babysitter that I will be late.”  He starts sharing a back story and then uses a fan from the crowd to complete his hilarious mad libs transitioning the band to the next song.  And, he has a way of making the bar and wait staff love him while they curse him under their breath.

One of the highlights of this great night was when Joe called on the bar to serve up shots for every single person, while they played Tequila.  They had a few minutes to dole out a shot to every customer, the wait staff, themselves, and the band.  And, like the well-oiled machine the staff is, they got it done.  So, the crowd is dancing with their tequila shot in-hand and eager for the famous lyrics to give them permission to throw it back.  It was a definite crowd-pleaser that I am sure many went on to talk about as they reminisced their night watching the Punching Pandas perform!

So, if it wasn’t clear before this point, if you love a good time, laughs, great music from exceptionally talented musicians, and a wide array of music – get in line behind me for their next event!  I am googling for their fan club, so I can run for the presidential seat!

In the meantime, check out their website or Facebook page for your next night out! May your ride be smooth, your drink stiff – and your feet ready to dance!

Cheers!

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