Bad Religion take over Brooklyn, NY 6-9-15

Some billings are too big to do in one night, and when LA Punk gods Bad Religion steamroll into town, sometimes once just is not enough. Touring smaller venues for a more intimate experience with fans, it would take two nights at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY for Bad Religion to make their mark on the city that never sleeps. Reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s famous Live After Death seven night appearance in Manhattan back in 1985, albeit on a smaller scale, the thirty year veterans would be making two more stops in the metropolitan area to bring their own Big Apple total to four performances.

On June 9th, 2015, it was night number one and, with all dates being sold out far in advance, it was destined to be a night to remember for devotees of the infamous Crossbusters themselves. A Bad Religion show is always a transcendent experience, as their fan base consists of individuals from across a wide spectrum of musical leanings. As fans filed in to the posh, well laid out venue, their excitement was plain to behold. Smiles on faces and bar stool chattering saw fans from as far away as Holland and Chile swapping war stories about Bad Religion concerts past and present. It turned out there was plenty of time for such musings, as the first band did not come on until well after the announced start time of 8:00pm.

When the opener did go on, the venue upstairs was only about a quarter filled. Plague Vendor, coming all the way from Whittier, California, served up some brash, frenetic Hard Rock that sounded like a mixture of Punk Rock and Noise Rock, with a little bit of heavy riffing common to a lot of Bay Area bands. The singer, Brandon Blaine, packed a lot of venom into his yelping growl. His band mates beat on their instruments, getting many a punter moving with their brief, fiery diatribes. To their credit, Plague Vendor really drove it home up on that stage. Each member of the quartet jumped around like a nest of hornets got under their shirts, amping up their brazen odes to angst and oppression. With their debut album, Free To Eat, for the legendary Epitaph Records barely a year out of the can, the future is bright for these surly young men. The anger they portrayed in a song such as “Breakdance on Broken Glass” speaks of their roots in conservative America and simply breaking out and raging against the yoke of their Cali background.

Following the departure of Plague Vendor, the massive cross with the red line through it showed clear upon a black banner, hung behind the drum kit with care. The place truly began filling up as the sound guys checked lines, tested microphones, and tightened those high hats until all was in readiness. When the lights went down, a massive roar went up, as out of a side door appeared the evening’s heroes. Bad Religion’s last studio album, True North, came out in 2013, so what tonight’s set list was going to be comprised of was anyone’s guess. They chose to open with “Spirit Shine” off of 1996’s The Gray Race, a well-paced anthem with a very danceable mid section and “HEY!” shout along. Instantly, the center of the crowd opened up into a swarm of pushing, seething bodies, as just like that – just like it always is with this band – it was on from the word go. Wasting no time, singer Greg Graffin marched right into the title track of 1993’s Recipe For Hate, before diving back to the band’s early days with the classic “We’re Only Gonna Die.”

The absence of founding guitarist Greg Hetson was noticeable, yet his replacement Mike Dimkich, a storied musician in his own right, performed more than admirably. Many tongues were wagging about why Hetson was not around, but it all smacked of rumors and until there is word from the band, that is all it is. Familiar faces like Brian Baker on guitar, Jay Bentley on bass guitar, and the inimitable Brooks Wackerman on drums, surrounded the professor of Science and Punk Rock spoken word himself, Greg Graffin. Though many a gray hair suffuses the scalps of some of these men, no aspect of their show is any less energetic than it was in bygone years.

After paying homage to the 1990’s with “Stranger Than Fiction,” “Against the Grain,” and “Sewing the Seeds of Utopia,” Graffin referenced the album Suffer. Released in 1987, it stands as an absolute fan favorite. At its mention, the crowd surged with heart-attack level excitement. From teen to fifty year old, not a soul in the house was quiet as Graffin introduced “You Are The Government.” The whipcord length songs flew by, as “1000 More Fools,” “How Much Is Enough,” and “Suffer” sent chills down spines, even as those spines were accosted from above by wave after wave of crowd-surfers. After the title track, Jay Bentley approached the microphone. Tall, lanky, and made to rip up that bass, the often hilarious dry counterpoint to Greg Graffin’s stage banter began to say, “Delirium…..of disorder….” into his mic, in a voice mimicking the ultra-slowed down recording of those same words on the album. The song it prefaces is yet again a nihilistic anthem of acknowledging the godless universe for what it is and saying fuck it and just accepting it. Sort of an anthem for the burden of the Science-minded intellectual, it preceded the 1:07 Motorhead meets Minor Threat hyperactivity of “Do What You Want.”

Eager to throw some curve balls, Graffin and company went right into the title track off the aforementioned The Gray Race before stunning many of the old-school fans with a glorious rendition of “Part III” from 1982’s How Could Hell Be Any Worse? From there it was a jump back to the millennium with “Hopeless Housewife” from The New America. As the band ripped through classic and newer song alike, one enterprising young fan used his brief post-surfing stage appearance to take a selfie with Brooks Wackerman’s drums and the Crossbuster banner in the background. Before the frustrated security guard could boot him back into the crowd, an ever mischievous Jay Bentley leaned down mid-song and grinned right over the guy’s shoulder. Even as the carpe diem worthy fan went tumbling back down into the sweaty masses, many fans were jealous of what has to be the coolest photobomb ever.

Promising to play sixty songs in two nights, Bad Religion, on this night, drew from most of their back catalogue, airing out “Modern Man” from 1990’s Against the Grain next. An absolute monstrous ode to humanity’s environmental missteps, of which there are plenty, the crowd whipped itself into an absolute frenzy by the time “Skyscraper” came in. From 1993’s introspective Recipe For Hate, this song actually elicited tears from the eyes of one shirtless fan. Despite its fast pace, it is arranged in such an emotive way that combined with its heartfelt poetic lyrics, raises the hair on the arms and fills up the hearts of these uber faithful fans of Bad Religion. “No Direction,” a song which preaches against preaching, rounded out this segment of songs, and comes by way of 1992’s Generator.

Greg Graffin, no worse for wear despite the already high number of songs played, brought up 1989’s No Control album to an earth-shaking roar from the crowd. What can be called the No Control portion of the show saw them rip through “Change of Ideas,” “Big Bang,” “I Want to Conquer the World,” “Sanity,” “Henchmen,” “Billy,” and “You.”  Those last two are a statement against heroin and a statement against hate respectively. One thing about Bad Religion, at their shows almost everyone can be seen singing along word for word. Such is the magnetic power of their lyrics and the sheer genius of their arrangements. Tonight was no different. Man, woman, teenager, it mattered not. All were enraptured and one would have had to search for lips not syncing exactly along to Graffin’s strong and determined voice.

After the high pace of the No Control gamut, Bad Religion slowed it down with the thoughtful, melancholic “Struck a Nerve” from the aforesaid Recipe For Hate, before once again blowing away the old school contingent with the blink-and-you-missed-it bluster of “Slaves” from Bad Religion. Revisiting 1994’s gold selling Stranger Than Fiction album, Graffin and the boys stormed through the middle-finger salute of “Handshake” and MTV hit “Infected” before concluding with “Generator” and “American Jesus.” Few songs arouse such a wall to wall pit like that last one. Encapsulating the Bad Religion experience perfectly, it is certainly up there among the best Punk anthems ever penned.

After a quick good night, the place erupted into chants for more, and reliably, predictably, that timeless false good night resolved itself into the encore. Going way, way back to 1985’s Back to the Known, “Along The Way” was aired out, followed by “The New America,” and, to the vast and utter satisfaction of the sold out Brooklyn crowd, they said the real goodnight with “Fuck Armageddon…This is Hell.”

Bad Religion does not just play a venue, they get into the heads and hearts of all who bear witness to their high energy intellectual brand of Rock-n-Roll Punk Rock. As the venue slowly emptied, the fans knew they had seen something special. Even more exciting, Graffin announced that the band was making a ton of headway on a new album due later this year. Thirty plus years and counting, the veterans look pissed, hungry, and far from putting down their instruments.

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