Bad Religion, Aggrolites, Off With Their Heads Warehouse Live November 5, 2010
Fun Fun Fun Fest may have beckoned tantalizingly from Austin, but we resisted its pull to see what is, for us, the greatest punk rock band still putting out new material. It was Bad Religions's 30th Anniversary show, and we were damned if we were gonna miss it.
Aftermath was among the few who made the sacrifice, it seemed. We've never seen the main stage at Warehouse Live so empty for such a huge act. When we got there, the place had yet to reach half capacity, and though it filled up nicely later on, it still wasn't as packed as it should have been.
All that really meant for us was that we had a much easier time getting beer and then getting back to a good spot in front of the stage, but we hope Bad Religion don't misinterpret the slow sales as reason to skip Houston in the future. Enough bands do that shit already.
The opening acts were... an odd choice, to be sure. Openers Off With Their Heads sounded exactly like Face To Face. We mean exactly, to the point where we were able to name which Face songs each Heads song was analogous with. Now, we're not saying Off With Their Hands were intentionally ripping off the defunct Trevor Keith-fronted L.A. pop-punk act, nor are we making accusations of plagiarism of any kind.
We're just saying: they sounded exactly like Face To Face. That having been said, Aftermath is a big fan of Face To Face, so Off With Their Heads were just fine with us. You'd think Bad Religion's 30th anniversary would merit an opening act which was somewhat more original, though.
Which brings us to the Aggrolites. They created quite a buzz a few years back, and they're decent enough for what they do, we suppose. They're a ska/reggae act with soul and punk overtones, which sounds like it could be a fantastic genre combination on paper (and surely there are bands somewhere who are getting that combination exactly right) but onstage?
It was all too upbeat, too cheerful, too inoffensive... we'll just come right out and say it, the Aggrolites were fucking Dad rock. They would have been more at home opening for Jimmy Buffet than for an intense, angry punk-rock band who have been singing about society's ills for almost as long as Aftermath has been alive.
Or maybe not. The audience responded to them well enough, and the front half of the main stage seemed to be pretty into what they were doing, so who knows. Maybe Aftermath has completely misjudged their sound. Maybe. (We didn't, though.)
So did we get these mediocre openers foisted on us because they happen to be on Brett Gurewitz's world-famous Epitaph label? We don't know; Gurewitz didn't show, so we couldn't ask him. But yes.
That's correct, Bad Religion were Mr. Brett-free when they took the stage Friday night, but it didn't matter all that much. His replacement, Brian Baker, has been touring with the band for more than half of their existence, so he's at least as much a part of BR as Gurewitz. And come on, the guy was in Minor Threat. Argue with that cred, we dare you.
As for the rest, a palpable thrum of idolization hammered through the crowd when the band took the stage to a royal march, while the trademark band name logo graced a stark flag hung in front of a backdrop featuring symbols from the album art of every single Bad Religion LP, which was pretty cool.
The five seminal punk rockers didn't even stop to say hi before tearing into "Do What You Want" from Suffer, an appropriate choice, since Suffer was the first step up from Bad Religion's fairly simplistic old-school hardcore into its more ambitious signature brand of intellectual punk rock.
They shot forward about 15 years for "Overture/Sinister Rouge" from 2004's The Empire Strikes First before catapulting all the way back to the beginning for "We're Only Gonna Die" off their debut LP. The entire concert was kind of like that, an appropriate overview of the band's entire catalogue with virtually no album left ignored.
The only exceptions to that rule were The New America, an album from the time period where Gurewitz was completely absent from the band and frontman Greg Graffin was still fresh off the breakup of his marriage, and, of course, the band's shameful bastard flipper-baby of a prog-rock album, Into the Unknown - which, all things considered, isn't really that bad an album, but the band has pretended like it never happened basically since they released it.
After the fiery intro, the band finally stopped for a short breather to greet everybody, answered by enthusiastic cheers and screams. They didn't chat for long, belting right back into their catalogue with "Recipe for Hate," "Flat Earth Society" and "Before You Die," continuing to shift eras so drastically and suddenly that if the concert had been a Dodge Charger, they might have stripped the gears.
The shifting wasn't awkward, though, as even though Bad Religion have experimented and matured over the years, they've still managed to maintain their distinctive soulful, high-energy sound. Their new album, The Dissent of Man, contains both fast, balls-out hardcore and more melodic, complicated compositions, often within the same song, and marks a fitting effort from a band celebrating their 30th anniversary.
Dr. Graffin and company were relaxed, smiling, and even bantering a little as they blasted through their set, showing that while three decades of punk rock might still be fun, it certainly isn't difficult anymore. Or at least it wasn't until the band's first attempt at new song "The Devil In Stitches," wherein Graffin had to halt the band entirely, admitting "I just had no idea what note I was supposed to start on."
Like true professionals, everyone onstage laughed it off, moved on to other songs, then came back to the troublesome "Devil." Which, of course, they nailed the second time around.
A gaffe for Graffin is no black mark in our book. Indeed, it shows an admirable urge to continue challenging themselves in their new material, which Aftermath shouldn't have to tell you, very few bands who have been around for 30 years are capable of. That's how you keep a consistent level of live-wire ferocity over so many years, we suppose. It's hard to grow bored with something when you know just how to make the right kind of subtle changes to keep it interesting.
Of course, things do change. For the encore, Aftermath ventured into the sizable mosh pit and was almost immediately knocked to the ground. What would have barely fazed us in our teenage years became a worrisome injury as we limped and bled all over our jeans for the final three songs.
We weren't so old that we let a possibly shattered kneecap stop us from singing along, though. Like Bad Religion, we've got a long way to go before we're decrepit.
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Do What You Want (Suffer) Overture / Sinister Rouge (The Empire Strikes First) We're Only Gonna Die (How Could Hell Be Any Worse?) Recipe For Hate (Recipe For Hate) Flat Earth Society (Against the Grain) Before You Die (New Maps of Hell) The Resist Stance (The Dissent of Man) I Want To Conquer The World (No Control) 21st Century (Digital Boy) (Against the Grain) New Dark Ages (New Maps of Hell) The Devil in Stitches (The Dissent of Man) Hear It (No Substance) A Walk (The Gray Race) No Direction (Generator) Only Rain (The Dissent of Man) You (No Control) Avalon (The Dissent of Man) Suffer (Suffer) Atomic Garden (Generator) Wrong Way Kids (The Dissent of Man) No Control (No Control) Fuck Armageddon... This Is Hell (How Could Hell Be Any Worse?) Los Angeles Is Burning (The Empire Strikes First) American Jesus (Recipe For Hate)
Generator (Generator) Infected (Stranger Than Fiction) Sorrow (The Process of Belief)