This past week, I re-started my New York City concert-going experience with a band whom I had been meaning to see for several years, but for some reason, always had other plans interfere. I'm not a hard core Bad Religion fan by any stretch. In fact there are only two albums of theirs from which I've downloaded 5 or more songs. But I do think their music has a great energy and their lyrics are thoughtful and original...even if I don't necessarily know what they're singing about. So I figured they would put on a great live show.
This was the 3rd of 3 dates they were playing at Irving Plaza as part of their 30th anniversary tour. Each night was supposed to represent an approximately ten-year segment of time. I chose to attend the last one, since I'm a little more familiar with their more recent work, and this show was highlighting the Bad Religion albums from 2000-present, including the just released The Dissent of Man.
The unfortunate thing about many shows today, is that the run times are getting shorter and shorter as the ticket prices go higher and higher. Of course, in punk rock, many of the songs clock in at under 3:00, giving the bands even less incentive to do a longer set. When you can cram 27 songs into a 1:20 set, why not? I just think that the artists should be giving the audiences more bang for their buck. Also unfortunate in this instance, the better of the two opening acts, Off With Their Heads, played first, with me missing most of their set. The Aggrolites, a soul-funk/reggae outfit (not my cup of tea at all), came on next, which led to me going downstairs to watch the World Series on a TV near the food vendor until it was time for the main act.
In any case, my favorite Bad Religion album is their 2002 effort, The Process of Belief. And indeed, they started the show off with three consecutive tracks from TPoB. They weren't my favorites from that CD, though, and there was something about the way the set started off...something with the sound...the drums overshadowing the vocals...I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Whatever it was, my first thought was, I was going to be disappointed by this show. However, over the next 9 songs or so, things really picked up. Included in this segment were three especially strong tracks off of 2004's The Empire Strikes First - "Sinister Rouge,""Let Them Eat War" and "Los Angeles is Burning." The crowd (other than me) were apparently all die-hard BR fans; they knew every word to every song. This was a welcome contrast to many concerts I've been to recently where the entire audience was talking through the duration of the show. The energy level was high. Unfortunately, so was the temperature in the venue. It was ridiculously hot and muggy INSIDE, something only exacerbated by the packed house of fans. I was sweating my proverbial ya-ya's off. Lead singer, Greg Graffin, even noted the jungle-like conditions at one point between songs, remarking, "I'm sweating like a whore in church up here." And then, referring to the celebration of their 2000-era works, he added, "Because, of course, there was no air conditioning back in the early 2000's, and we're trying to make this experience as authentic as possible!" That got a good chuckle from the sweltering crowd.
Back to the set list: As the second half of the show ensued, they played several songs with which I was not familiar, but which were strong selections all the same. In particular,"Social Suicide" from the previously-mentioned The Empire Strikes First, "Dearly Beloved" from 2007's New Maps of Hell, and especially "Don't Sell Me Short," the lone selection from their 2000 album The New America, were all really rousing live performances. They also finally blistered through two much better selections from my mentioned favorite The Process of Belief - "The Defense" and "Epiphany."
After a couple decent new tracks, the band "cheated" a bit by finishing the main set with two non-2000-era songs - 1994's "Infected" and from the previous year, Recipe For Hate's "American Jesus." That set closer was a great surprise for me, as I think "American Jesus," Bad Religion's rant on Americans' attitudes toward the rest of the world, might be one of the best punk rock songs ever written. The opening and central guitar lick is very simple, but is one of those rock riffs that is unmistakable, and gets your blood rushing.
For the encore, I was sure I knew the two songs that were coming: minor rock radio hit "Sorrow" from The Process of Belief, and, one of my favorite songs ever - by anyone - "New America," the single and title track from The New America. I was half right. They played three songs in closing: "Along the Way," a track off one of their 1980's-era EP's, my correct guess "Sorrow" and, as a nod to the longtime fans, "Fuck Armageddon...This is Hell," a really lackluster choice off of their 1982 debut LP, How Could Hell Be Any Worse? In my opinion, a pretty blah set closer. I was stunned that they didn't play "New America." For anyone who read my blog posts detailing my Top 210 Songs of the 2000's, that one came in at #3. Given the current political climate, and the critical mid-term elections occurring next week, it would have been extremely timely, despite having been written more than a decade earlier.
So, in all, I was pretty disappointed with the absence of a few standout tracks from The Process of Belief
Opening Acts: B-
Venue temperature: D
Band performance: B+
Energy level: A
Audience involvement: A+
Set list: B
Set length: C
OVERALL GRADE: B-