“We’re actually amazed some of the songs we wrote 30 years ago are still relevant today,” Bad Religion’s vocalist Greg Graffin admitted to the packed crowd gathered at the Warfield last night. The Ph.D. holding punk-rocker bantered as his guitar and bass players made distorted buzzing sounds by holding their instruments up to the amps.
“And these are three words we’ve been hearing a lot this election season,” the frontman continued as guitarist Brian Baker segwayed into the next song’s opening chords. “Come. Join. Us,” Graffin said, pointing his finger at the audience with each word before launching into the punk-rock band’s 1996 Come Join Us, which laments on the stupidity of cults and cult followings.
Bad Religion’s stop at the Warfield marked the final week of the Los Angeles band’s Vox Populi Tour, which means “voice of the people” in Latin. But rather than going on tour to publicize a new album, the band’s two month North America run — with touring mates Against Me! and Dave Haus — was intended to promote awareness about the upcoming election and get people involved in the political process. And maybe it was a chance for them to do a little venting, too. I don’t know whether it’s more scary or impressive that the socio political songs the band wrote in the ‘80s are more relevant than ever today, but the So-Cal punkers hit the nail on the head.
In Bad Religion’s current lineup, three out of five are founding members and they certainly play like a band that has been together since 1979. They opened with “You Are the Government,” a perfect example of the classic Bad Religion sound, which floored the whole crowd and sent the circle pit off. Graffin’s urgent vocals met the pace of the fast punk melody for most of the song, and then soared over the speedy chord progression which included a three-part harmony with two of the other founding members, Baker and bass player Jay Bentley. Without taking a breath, the punk legends dove right into “I Want to Conquer The World,” a sarcastic anti-war song that is a personal favorite of mine and has one of the band’s best opening riffs.
Seven songs in, the crowd favorite “Fuck You” sent fans reeling as those on the floor slammed the crap out of eachother and middle fingers were thrown-up across the venue — even from the people relaxing in the balcony seats. There were a good chunk of Halloween costumes among showgoers and a couple of dead-looking face-painted moshers seemed to have an extra sense of invincibility on the eve of the fright-themed holiday.
Eight songs in came “The Streets of America,” a catchy, slowed-down march that was a nice breather for everyone who had been ferociously head nodding and fist pumping up until that point. It wasn’t until around the last 10 songs that Bad Religion’s grip on my attention started to loosen and I realized that my legs hurt and my ears were already ringing. I felt old for a second while watching the 50-something white haired Graffin and his leather-clad veteran bandmates jumping around without missing a note.
The singer reiterated the band’s sociopolitical foundations and intentions throughout the night. “This song’s not gonna change things folks,” he said, before playing “New America.” “It’s almost 20 years old now. But we’re still hoping.”
I have never been a big Bad Religion fan for the same reason that my interest began to fade last night: The speedy, three (and sometimes four) chord melodies with “oohs and ahs” harmonizing and the political sarcasm and metaphors are all awesome, but after 15 songs, it can start to feel pretty damn repetitive.
However, that didn’t get to me as much as I thought it would. I was completely enthralled for the majority of the show because what this band lacks in musical experimentation, they make-up for in flawless execution, passionate energy, and by being very, very loud.
The Warfield was also the the best venue to see a Bad Religion concert at. The old movie theater is small enough so that anyone can see the stage without being too far away, and the amphitheatre-style floor area ascends in four sections so you can be on the main level and watch the moshing from above without having to lose a shoe or a tooth.
Now that the show is over, my ears are still ringing and I still want to throw middle fingers up and sing “Fuck You” on repeat all the way up to the polls on Election Day, because if there’s anything I learned from Bad Religion’s show it’s that I’ve got to vote, Goddamnit!
(You are) the Government
I Want to Conquer the World
New Dark Ages
Come Join Us
Let Them Eat War
Them and Us
Streets of America
Against the Grain
Recipe for Hate
Robin Hood in Reverse
21st Century Digital Boy
Man with a Mission
Change of Ideas
Delirium of Disorder
Do What You Want
Best for You
Fuck Armageddon, This is War