Bad Religion At The Observatory, Wednesday October 9th 2019
On Wednesday night, during their second show at the Observatory, Bad Religion had decided to play the entire ‘No Control’ album…‘If it’s your second night with us, we are going to play an entirely different setlist’, said frontman Ph. D. Greg Graffin (although nobody called him professor during the show),… and, at the moment, I was not sure whether he was joking or not, but why would they have played the same songs when they have so much material to choose from? Bad Religion hasn’t stopped touring since their show at the Roxy in April, and although they have released ‘Age of Unreason’ this year, the tour was heavy on ‘No Control’ songs, as the album was released 30 years ago.
Greg Antista and the Lonely Streets opened the show with their punk rock and a touch of Americana, and they sounded a bit like a blend of Johnny Cash, the Blasters, and The Clash. I had seen them before when they opened for Dennis Quaid at the Mint, and once again they knew right away how to put the crowd on their feet. They have released an album this year, ‘Shake, Stomp and Stumble’ and it’s clear that some of their infection and uplifting punk anthems, all embellished by Jessica Katzmarek’s brilliant guitar solos, seemed to have absorbed the best products of the Orange County punk scene like Social Distortion.
A punk band from Chicago, The Lawrence Arms, played a rowdy set of raucous but melodic punk rock with plenty of hard-hitting punch. It was the tough type of punk rock shouted out at your faces with loud harmonic choruses by bassist Brendan Kelly and guitarist Chris McCaughan, but also some savagery in the delivery and an unstoppable determination.
Even though Greg Graffin called himself ‘grandpa’ during the show, even though the lineup of the band has changed (guitarist Mike Dimkich and drummer Jamie Miller have joined the band in 2013 and 2015, replacing respectively Greg Hetson and Brooks Wackerman) the energy and the passion of the delivery during a Bad Religion show has stayed intact. If you were doubting that punk shows still exist, the kind of punk shows where you see furious moshpits of Mohawks, you should have watched this sweating party. The entire venue was vibrating, the walls were seeping, all fists were on the air directed toward the stage, and the lyrics of ‘I Want to Conquer the World’, and every single song they did, were on every lip.
Bad Religion has always been a fascinating concept as they have managed to combine a very accessible melodic punk — the kind of catchy music that a crowd will always sing along like a war anthem — with cerebral even intellectual lyrics, whether they are talking about difficult subjects like consciousness and free will (‘Consciousness has plagued us and we cannot shake it, though we think we’re in control’ in ‘No Control’) or socio-psychological themes (‘Anybody can feel like a winner when it’s served up piping hot’, in ‘Let Them Eat War’)…. their songwriting is stuffed with big ideas of current science, humanitarianism, clever socio-political observations and you cannot find a punk band more driven by its will to share ruminations on history, pop culture, violence, conflict and of course, religion and theocracy… It’s still incredible they have managed to keep this ‘offensive’ anti-Christian logo during their entire career, especially during these everyone-is-offended-by-everything era, but I suppose they have established themselves as punk icons long enough to escape the stupid politely correct police.
If ‘No Control’ was written in Reagan America, there is no doubt the songs still resonate in 2019, while the new ‘Age of Unreason’ complete the landscape of their never-ending series of clever protest songs… After listening to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Ghosteen’ for a few days, the contract could not have been more brutal, there are no songs more anchored in reality than a Bad Religion song, there is no metaphor, no lost love, it’s protest punk rock at its best, with lines like ‘We’ve got the American Jesus/He helped build the president’s estate’, or ‘Cause I’m a 21st Century Digital Boy/I don’t know how to read but I’ve got a lot of toys’ around powerful hooks.
Despite playing an impressive 28-song set, the show sounded like one big victory tour, with a continuous mosh pit, a sense of vitality renewed at each song and Greg Graffin’s urgent delivery. These were bullets songs you wanted him to sing as fast as possible while the moshpit guys never had enough of the human whirlwind.
There was barely a highlight during the show, Bad Religion doesn’t effectively shine for its sonic diversity, but the energy truly culminated during ‘I Want to Conquer the World’. Another highlight belonged to Emily Davis (of the band Emily Davis and the Murder Police who had opened for Bad Religion the night before) as she joined Greg on stage to deliver a few lines of ‘Let Them Eat War’ with an almost rap-rhythm before diving above the crowd. A second highlight was this little 7-year old boy whom his father held hold at arm’s length when Greg Graffin asked if there was someone who was seeing the band for the first time, And since it was just before the very-inappropriate-for-7-year-old-ears song ‘Fuck You’, everyone laughed.
There were no ‘sleepers’ as professor Graffin put it, and as they ended the show with some of the favorites if there is such a thing (‘Sorrow’, ‘Los Angeles Is Burning’, ‘American Jesus’), it was obvious that the sweat-drenched crowd was only interested by shouting the witty lyrics at the top of their lungs.
Change of Ideas
Sometimes It Feels Like
I Want to Conquer the World
End of History
Let Them Eat War
Lose Your Head
Recipe for Hate
Chaos From Within
Flat Earth Society
21st Century (Digital Boy)
It Must Look Pretty Appealing
I Want Something More
The World Won’t Stop
We’re Only Gonna Die
Los Angeles Is Burning