Punk rock challenged me to think, but Bad Religion gave me the vocabulary to express what I figured out.
Yes, Bad Religion’s lyrics frequently require the use of a dictionary to decipher. But this is also precisely what sets the band apart from others who have come and gone over the last three decades. They’re smart. And instead of just blindly raging against The Man, they challenge their audience to consider social responsibility, holding up politics and religion as the root cause of many of the world’s ills.
On Wednesday at the Fillmore Auditorium, the So-Cal sextet with the Ivy League professor front man showed they still have what it takes. Sure, there’s a little less hair, a little more paunch, a couple more streaks of grey and fewer onstage antics, but they play and sing with the energy and – perhaps more importantly – the passion that has always been the stamp of a Bad Religion song.
With their hallmark soaring vocal harmonies and heavy triple-guitar sound of Brian Baker (Minor Threat), Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks) and original band member Brett Gurewitz, Bad Religion ripped through songs from throughout their 30-plus-year catalog: “New Dark Ages,” “Generator,” “21st Century Digital Boy,” “I Want to Conquer the World,” “Sanity” and “Infected,” among others. Their latest release “True North” – the band’s 16th full-length album – is their first to crack the Billboard Top 20. Several tracks from that album were well-received by the crowd, especially the first single, “F**k You”. (side note: if you’ve never yelled “f**k you” in unison with hundreds, I highly recommend it.)
Despite the success of this newest album, the venue only filled to about two-thirds capacity. In 2011, Bad Religion played a sold-out show at the same venue. The band was then opening for Rise Against, whose bro-tastic power tool song “Help is on the Way” was making waves at that time with the MMA Affliction shirt-wearing set. Seeing punk icons relegated to opening slot was tragic, especially when they’re leagues above the headliner.
But old punk never dies. And perhaps the best indicator of the staying power of Bad Religion’s music is the crowd itself. On Wednesday, there were more than a few middle-aged people milling about in original T.S.O.L., Casualties and Sham 69 shirts, singing along with every word and loving every minute. Among them were young people – a new generation of Bad Religion fans set to carry the torch forward … or at least create a massive mosh pit.
And then there was the grey-haired lady in a striped turtleneck shirt and mom jeans. She was likely dragged there by her kids and clearly didn’t know one lyric, yet she was kicking up her heels without a care in the world. At times, she’d stop dancing and just watch the show and smile, caught up in the moment.
And that is the power of Bad Religion.
Shout-out to openers the Bronx, who played a solid set, and to my hometown Rochester, NY-based Polar Bear Club, whose set I unfortunately missed, but whose latest release, “Clash Battle Guilt Pride”, is going to be on heavy rotation today.
Laura Keeney is a community manager for YourHub Denver who also frequently writes and blogs about technology and business for The Denver Post. She’s also obsessed with Joe Strummer. Follow her @yhlaura and @onnabugeisha.
Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a regular contributor to Reverb.