Bad Religion, Polar Bear Club, Dead Rabbits House of Blues March 13, 2013
At this point, part of Bad Religion's appeal is their utter reliability. Tour after tour and album after album, the consummate L.A. punks have trained audiences thoroughly to know what to expect from them: chainsaw guitar riffs, pointed social commentary and irony-free live performances.
Thirty-three years later, it can all seem a little routine at times. In practice, though, punk rock and routines rarely coexist for long. Bad Religion's legendary consistency was put to the test by some touring setbacks Wednesday night at House of Blues, but the band displayed the veteran savvy necessary to hang in there and face down a few curveballs without striking out.
The first big curve was the absence of scheduled tourmates Against Me!, who had to cancel their participation after parting ways with their drummer earlier this month. Bummer though that was, local Celtic-punk superheroes the Dead Rabbits got the last-minute call to help warm up the early birds -- a task for which they proved spectacularly suited.
If you've got plans to catch the Rabbits at Griff's on St. Paddy's Day, expect to hear a lot of fine plucking from the band's string section, which includes banjo, mandolin and acoustic guitar. All that wraps around their thumping electric core of guitar, bass and drums quite nicely to produce a huge, boisterous pub-punk sound that practically lifts the booze to your lips for you.
That sound filled up the House of Blues with ease on Wednesday, but the Dead Rabbits proved they didn't need all those instruments to win over a crowd when they showed off some nice vocal harmonies on the a cappella pirate shanty, "Roll the Wood Pile Down." Judging by the number of punks clapping along, the band appeared to make some new fans.
Up next was the Polar Bear Club from Rochester, New York. All eyes (and ears) immediately turned to singer Jimmy Stadt, whose dynamic pipes cut straight through the group's big, bouncy riffs. Reminiscent at times of a white 'n' nerdy Cedric Bixler, Stadt's energy onstage proved infectious, and the audience listened with interest.
Stadt profusely thanked the crowd for every clap and cheer. A number of PBC's slightly poppy, post-hardcore tunes sounded like they could've made for some great mass sing-alongs, had anyone known the words. Maybe next time.
As if Against Me's cancellation weren't enough, it was clear as soon as Bad Religion took the stage on Wednesday that they were dealing with yet another missing drummer. Skinsman Brooks Wackerman's mother had just passed away, it was explained, and he was on leave from the tour to deal with that -- leaving the band to find a last-second replacement.
Honestly? If they hadn't mentioned it, I might not have noticed. I didn't catch the fill-in's name, but earned his paycheck. He didn't miss a downbeat all night. Bad Religion were as tight as ever, blasting out songs from its massive back catalogue of albums all the way up to this year's True North.
Everyone seems to discover Bad Religion at the same age: late junior high. For many fans, the band's simple, straightforward approach becomes the very essence of punk rock, and they stick around for life. The result is an audience that cuts across all ages, from 13-year-olds in their first mosh pit to battered old punks who can't do much more than bob their heads and smile.
In between songs, singer Greg Graffin chatted up the crowd amiably, inquiring about the Rodeo and waxing nostalgic on good times gone by in Houston. The first date of the band's Suffer tour kicked off in Houston back in the late '80s, he remembered.
"There were six punk rockers and 24 cowboys," Graffin said. "Was it at Trees?"
When the crowd scoffed at that little error, the singer recovered nicely without having to blink.
"Oh right, fuck Dallas," he chuckled. "Sorry!"
The band tore through song after two-minute song, including a blistering version of "Fuck Armageddon... This is Hell" from that very same Suffer album. They played everything they needed to: "21st Century Digital Boy," "No Control," "Stranger Than Fiction," "Modern Man" and more. The crowd bounced around and sang along to everything.
It was a familiar sight to any punk who's been around the circle pit a time or two: Bad Religion has been doing its thing for three decades now, and they don't appear inclined to quit anytime soon. As guitarist Brian Baker asked us earlier this week, who'd want to quit having fun?
Hell, if the unflinching grace with which they made lemonade out of Wednesday night's lemons is any indication, not even Bad Religion can slow Bad Religion down.
Personal Bias: Non-skater.
The Crowd: Punks who like to sing in the shower.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Ha, did you see that guy's NOFX shirt?"
Random Notebook Dump: Bad Religion has chosen to age gracefully, and it's a smart choice. They looked every bit the elder statesmen onstage Wednesday night.
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