Show Review: Bad Religion at the House of Blues, Anaheim 3/18/10
The year was 1980. Motorhead released the iconic album Ace of Spades. The US Olympic ice hockey team defeated the powerhouse Soviet Union squad in the infamous “Miracle on Ice” game. Ordinary People wins best picture at the Academy Awards, and Americans elect California governor and former movie star Ronald Reagan to be the 40th president of the United States. In 1980, the state of punk rock in southern California was thriving in the underground scene. Bands like The Circle Jerks, Black Flag, X, Fear, and The Germs dominated the Los Angeles punk underground, while Agent Orange, The Adolescents, and Social Distortion were running the show down in neighboring Orange County. It was at this time that Greg Graffin and Brett Gurewitz, a couple of high school students in the San Fernando Valley, started a band with fellow classmates Jay Bentley and Jay Ziskrout. This would be the beginning of a 30-plus-year history that would forever change the way punk rock would be perceived by the masses.
Bad Religion took the rough and nihilistic sound of punk and polished it up in a way that some punk puritans might have seen as being practically sacrilegious, utilizing vocalized harmonies in lieu of outlandish vocal stylings used by contemporaries such as Black Flag’s Keith Morris. Bad Religion’s lyrics (and lyrical content) also set them apart from the pack — most of their songs are topically geared towards social ills, religion, politics, and science. Their music makes you think, or, at the very least, makes you pick up a dictionary to find out just exactly what they are talking about (“Is your fecundity a trammel or a treasure?”). No, Bad Religion never tried to dumb it down for their audience.
For 30 years, fans have flocked to their shows to sing along to these anthems of deep intellect, and the scene was no different on March 18th as Bad Religion celebrated their 30th anniversary to a sold out crowd at The House of Blues in Anaheim, California. This performance was one in a string of southern California and Nevada shows celebrating Bad Religion’s milestone; 30 years that have produced 14 studio albums, countless tours, and accolades from fans worldwide.
To the sound of a roaring crowd, the band took the stage. The current lineup includes Greg Graffin on vocals, Jay Bentley on bass guitar, Brett Gurewitz, Brian Baker, and Greg Hetson on guitar, and Brooks Wackerman on drums. They started out the show with “Do What You Want” from their 1988 album Suffer, and that lead into “Overture/Sinister Rouge” from 2004’s The Empire Strikes First. This was the overall theme for the evening — a little bit of the old and a little of the new (no Into The Unknown either. Into The Unknown was a 1983 album that was a total departure from Bad Religion’s punk roots. It was a progressive rock album and has been widely denounced by the band in several interviews). Song after song, they performed a variety of highlights from three decades of making music.
Graffin asked the crowd if this was their first time seeing Bad Religion; approximately 20 to 30 percent of the crowd cheered, definitely a surprising amount. This fact was supported by the large amount of applause and crowd participation during more current selections like “Los Angeles is Burning” and “New Dark Ages,” as well as the lack of crowd participation during older songs like “Best For You” and “Change of Ideas.”
They also played a new track from their upcoming untitled album called “Resist-Stance,” which was well received by the cheering audience. For me, the highlight of the evening occurred during the last seven songs of the regular set: it started with “I Want to Conquer The World,” which led into “We’re Only Gonna Die,” “No Control,” “21st Century Digital Boy,” “Resist-Stance,” “You,” and, lastly, “Generator.” The crowd responded with terrific enthusiasm, and it seemed as though the band could feel that energy. For the encore, they played “Fuck Armageddon…This is Hell,” “Infected,” and “Sorrow.”
For having been at it for 30 years, Bad Religion still puts on a killer show with a grip of energy. It’s clear that the band feeds off the crowd, and there was no shortage of electricity in the air. Graffin might have packed on a few pounds over the years, and his voice might have dropped an octave or two since the ’80s, but he still can belt out some of the oldest songs in the Bad Religion repertoire — although I noticed that during the song “Germs of Perfection” (a relatively new song), Graffin had some lyric cheat sheets at his disposal taped to the stage. Having Brett Gurewitz there to add that critical third guitar part really captures the full Bad Religion sound (Gurewitz usually only plays with Bad Religion at southern California shows due to his obligations at Epitaph Records). Hetson’s energy level is amazing — not only because he’s going on 49 years old, but also because he can jump around like nothing while belting out some stellar solos and riffs. I’m convinced he’s one of the most underrated punk guitarist of all time. Bentley and Baker dominate the left side of the stage with their own focused intensity. Bentley continues to look like he loves playing for the crowd as he displays a smile on his face through a good majority of the show, all the while bopping and hopping around the stage. Brooks continues to kill the drums with his tight, smooth playing — each time I see Bad Religion perform I’m continually impressed with his amazing drum skills.
Musically, these guys might be considered “old,” but they still can hit the solos, the “oozin’ ahhhs,” and the overall tightness that makes Bad Religion such a memorable band to witness live. I have to admit, there were a few “fuck up moments” throughout the show; I noticed that Hetson biffed it on at least one guitar solo (I noticed he shrugged his shoulders as he ended his solo as if to say to himself, “Eh, that sucked…oh well”). The guitar solo during “Sorrow” by Gurewitz didn’t sound right at all, and they did screw up the beginning of “How Much is Enough,” resulting in a restart.
When all was said and done, Bad Religion performed a total of 30 songs that well-represented their 30-year history. They can still put on an awesome show while achieving a sound that remains consistently solid, year after year. One can only hope they will quit while they are ahead; I don’t think us punk rock fans want Bad Religion to become the joke the Rolling Stones have become. But this night’s show is proof that they are far from being worn out and washed up. Will we see a 50th anniversary tour in 20 years? Time will tell on that one. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction.