Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Bad Religion at House of Blues Anaheim, 4/1/10
I knew when I did my huge lists of my favorite albums of the decade I would leave stuff out. It's just the nature of lists that we forget things, no matter how long we spend putting it together. But boy, did I commit an egregious error when I left out Bad Religion. I ignored another of my favorite bands, Rocket From The Crypt, because I didn't feel anything they put out in that time span was quite good enough. Bad Religion, on the other hand, had a major creative upswing in the 2000's when founding member Brett Gurewitz came back, and the first album they did after the reunion, The Process of Belief, absolutely deserved to make the list. I admit, sometimes I'm remiss. After seeing them again recently, I feel even worse about it, but I'm confident they still have some strong material in them, something that'll make my inevitable list of the 10's. (What follows is likely to be long, so consider yourself warned.)
Me and Bad Religion, we go way back. Imagine a fat, baby-faced thirteen year-old finally discovering music beyond what he's been made to listen to in the car by his parents, and then colliding with the sudden resurgence in popularity of punk rock. The Offspring and Green Day were the ones who broke through, but 1994 also saw the release of Bad Religion's Stranger Than Fiction, featuring the ubiquitous single "Infected." That album became the first that I was ever truly obsessed with, listening to it over and over (something made even easier by the brief nature of punk rock songs). In fact, one of my most vivid middle school memories--other than all the awkward horror that most of experienced--is of standing in a circle with some of my best friends and just singing that record's "Marked" repeatedly, much to the chagrin of my group. Then, with the release of Epitaph's inaugural Punk-O-Rama compilation, I got a taste of old Bad Religion with "Do What You Want," and the door had been opened.
I started scooping up everything I could find, discovering their albums from the 80's and early 90's, and suddenly Stranger Than Fiction didn't seem so shiny anymore. Against the Grain became my favorite for its inspired blasts of hardcore mixed with killer melodies, endless riffs, 'oozin' ahhs' and the most intelligent lyrics I'd heard. "The Positive Aspect of Negative Thinking" may have only been a minute long, but it improved my vocabulary exponentially. Gurewitz and lead singer Greg Graffin wrote songs that were anti-government, pro-humanity, calls to think for ourselves. Even though I've never been one to care about politics, the overriding theme of individuality within community spoke to me, whether I realized that's what it was at the time or not. To this day, there is no band I sing along with louder or more often than Bad Religion. And while that's largely because they write extremely catchy and memorable songs, it has a lot to do with the words themselves; Graffin and Gurewitz are the only songwriters I think of as writing influences.
All of that should provide a clear picture of how excited I get to see this band, and how thrilled I was when my friend came through with tickets to last Thursday's show, one in a large batch of 30th Anniversary shows the band has been playing in LA, OC and San Diego. While we waited for the set to begin, the video screens showed pictures of album, single and video covers spanning their entire career. Then a few minutes before they started, the white background on the stage was removed to show a giant collage of many of those same images, with the Bad Religion symbol of a crossed-out cross taking up about half of it. A voice came over the house PA: "We're sorry to inform you that due to singer Chris Griffin being sick, Bad Religion will have to cancel tonight's show." There were a few scattered laughs, but mostly you could hear the collective eye-roll of the crowd; as April Fools jokes go, this one was exceptionally lame. Then the band came onstage, and the people went crazy.
Now, thirty years of this is bound to take a toll on anyone, but all of the founding/early members look remarkably good, some hair loss set aside. They blasted straight into the aforementioned "Do What You Want," and then "Overture/Sinister Rouge" with barely a hello, and then the distinctive riff of "American Jesus." The idea of this tour is to touch upon every album, and already we'd had songs from the 80's, 90's and 2000's. Graffin and bassist Jay Bentley did all the talking, as usual, with Graffin taking the traditional approach and Bentley making random comments in response to him and the crowd. When someone held up a sign with a song request, Bentley said "That better not say 'Entropy.' I'm not sixteen anymore, I can't go that high!" Later, when someone shouted another song title he said "Take those potatoes out of your ears!" Recognizing the line from "Modern Day Catastrophists," a few people went crazy, hoping it was a lead-in to the song, but Bentley demurred: "I'm too old to be a catastrophist."
I love Bad Religion more than most, but I have to admit some of the song choices left me cold. Don't get me wrong, they're all fun live, but mid-90's songs like "Them & Us," "Leave Mine to Me" and "Come Join Us" are not among my favorites, and I would have gladly traded them for more selections from Against the Grain (we only got "21st Century (Digital Boy)"), Recipe for Hate (just three songs) or any of the earliest recordings. But as I said, the energy with which they play makes even those lesser-loved songs sound immediate and exhilarating. For a bunch of guys in their mid-40's, they bring it better than most bands, churning through 32 songs in right around 90 minutes. Even with some songs I'm not fond of, it's hard to complain about a night that brought us "Watch it Die," "Recipe for Hate," "Atomic Garden" and "Fuck Armageddon...This is Hell." Add to this a new song, "The Resist Stance," which sounds like a continued creative reinvigoration for my favorite cerebral punk rockers, and overall I'd say it was a very good night. Not the best I've seen them, but still the most fun I've had at a show in a while.
As I've gotten older and found more and more music, both new and old, a lot of the gateway bands have fallen by my wayside. Bad Religion, then, should be held in even higher regard for their ability to keep me dancing, jumping, singing and thinking all these years later. At this rate, I wouldn't be surprised to be attending a 40th anniversary show in ten years, and still loving it just as much.
Set List: Do What You Want / Overture-->Sinister Rouge / American Jesus / New Dark Ages / Atomic Garden / Supersonic / Prove It / Can't Stop It / Leave Mine to Me / Germs of Perfection / Them & Us / Come Join Us / Requiem for Dissent / Social Suicide / Suffer / Recipe for Hate / You / No Control / Dearly Beloved / Atheist Peace / We're Only Gonna Die / Delirium of Disorder / Watch it Die / Fuck Armageddon...This is Hell / Won't Somebody / Generator / The Resist Stance / I Want to Conquer the World / 21st Century (Digital Boy)
Encore: Infected / Los Angeles is Burning / Sorrow