there a draft in here? Greg Graffin of Bad Religion.
Hot American Punk
Lights, Oct. 16
Bad Religion hit Clifton Park Saturday night on their 30th-anniversary
tour, and they came ready to celebrate. The venue, however,
had other ideas. Northern Lights seemed like a living, breathing
entity whose sole purpose was to prevent Bad Religion from
putting on a great set. There were little things, like the
baseball playoffs and the UFC fights on the televisions that
hang over the bars—some heads were turned their way all night
long. There were technical issues, like the microphone cutting
out. And it was sweltering—the crowd was packed in like sardines,
pressed against the stage, and the band began the set already
They opened with the joyous punk blast of “Do What You Want”
with lead singer Gregg Grafinn singing his celebrated political/religious
commentary, “I don’t know if the billions will survive/but
I will believe in God when 1 and 1 are 5.” But only two songs
in, Graffin, the only constant member in the band’s history,
complained that the staff had opened the backstage doors and
let the fall air in, thereby detuning their instruments mid-song.
As the set went on a storm cloud, or something, opened up
directly over the stage. Water began pouring down on the band.
Mind you, Bad Religion are used to interpersonnel trouble
and used to having their sound—and ideas—pilfered by mainstream
punk bands. Guitarist Brett Gurewitz left the band in the
1990s to spend more time running his label, Epitaph, which
at the time was raking in the cash thanks to the Offspring’s
success. Gurewitz in turn accused the band of selling out
because they jumped from Epitaph to Atlantic to take advantage
of the punk revival that was sweeping the world.
The band survived all of that, but I thought they might not
survive the indoor rainstorm that shot in from the ducts.
Graffin at times seemed annoyed and distracted, but the group
plugged away. “The good news is Bad Religion is 30!” he announced,
joking that the band had been told they had to play Clifton
Park before they broke up. Graffin polled the crowd, asking
how many people were seeing them for the first time. It seemed
he was being sarcastic when he said the experience would be
like other firsts, such as “a first kiss.” But Clifton Park
wasn’t going to get the best of the band.
They played some new tracks, including “Resist Stance,” a
rather rock-styled number; other, more recent tunes like “Requiem
for Dissent” tore up the place with sing-along choruses. They
broke out the old favorites: “21st Century Digital Boy,” “A
Walk,” and the especially old-school and nasty “Fuck Armageddon
. . . This Is Hell.” The crowd was enthralled. Bad Religion
were becoming more uncomfortable and as they did I was more
entertained and more moved by their stalwart performance and
Water continued dripping on their heads when they played “American
Jesus” from Recipe for Hate. It was then that Graffin’s
talk about remembering the show forever swept back into my
mind. The show was undoubtedly a classic performance. Drenched
and tormented by technical problems, the band were still in
total command of the crowd, who joined in with the band’s
classic three-part harmonies.
Whatever gremlin or hex took up residence inside Northern
Lights for the night, in the end did the band a great favor.
Bad Religion may not have “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” money,
or a hit Broadway musical, but after 30 years they still have
some integrity left, and it was on display on Saturday night.
Lightning Bolt, Dan Deacon Ensemble
Lights, Oct. 14
Stumbling into the cold fall rain to wash other people’s sweat
off our bodies, digging the wadded pieces of sound-buffering
napkin from our ears, a friend of mine described Lightning
Bolt as a “safety valve” for suburban America. He’d just had
his toenail ripped off while trying to hoist a crowd surfer
overhead and his shoe was filling with blood. Envy was the
unanimous sentiment expressed on his Facebook page following
his status update the next morning.
Bands that play loud and fast are often mistaken for masochists
and misanthropes. Really, it’s the social history of rock
& roll. But the paradox of violent sound is the catharsis
it creates. The slogan “noise is the new punk” started to
get a lot of traction around the turn of the millennium, after
traditional punk went the way of Blink-182 and bored art school
kids like Brian Chippendale and Brian Gibson turned to raw,
loud sound for catharsis in a post-everything society. Sixteen
years after the noise-rock duo first joined forces, they’re
still approaching every show like a caveman antidote to first-world
docility, and making kids waiting in line for their shows
say things like, “I’ve been waiting years for this.”
For most of the evening, the band’s gear sat half-assembled
in the corner, forcing the maniac scrum that ensued for the
Dan Deacon Ensemble to dodge pedal boards and cymbal stands
in its reverie. Lightning Bolt has always performed on the
floor and this night it would be no different, even though
the duo were billed to follow Deacon’s 12-piece extravaganza.
On paper this was a very bad idea.
Joined by three drummers, three synth players, a mallet player,
and four multi-instrumentalists on multiple basses and guitars,
Deacon reprised the solo set he played at EMPAC this winter
with meticulously orchestrated versions of material from last
year’s Bromst. On any other night, Deacon’s cult-like
crowd-participatory antics and ability to make a crowd mosh
with xylophones and glockenspiels would be the story. But
even Deacon, dressed in his trademark oversized glasses and
Steve Urkel T-shirt, seemed eager for what followed. One night
shy of their final tour stop together, the ensemble joined
the audience on the floor.
From the first rumble of Gibson’s triple-distorted bass, the
crowd started to pitch and swell, and with Chippendale’s rapid-fire
drum attack, bodies were sent skyward. For those who lacked
the temerity and allegiance to stand in the first couple rows,
simultaneously hanging on every cymbal bash and protecting
the duo from the ever-surging crowd, a convex mirror (the
kind you’d find at the end of a blind driveway) was situated
above the band to offer some basic visibility. The visual
contrast was striking: Gibson blankly manning his bass while
Chippendale pummeled his ramshackle kit with a cloth mask
tied around his head and sound-dampening headphones on his
ears. But the fact that this wasn’t a stage show said a lot
about how the music functioned.
It’s likely that Lightning Bolt’s set drew primarily from
Earthly Delights, last year’s acclaimed record, but
it was impossible to tell and pointless to speculate. The
band’s catalog is a relentless mixture of Gibson’s heavy,
looped riffs (in addition to ample effects, his five-string
bass features cello tuning and two banjo strings he uses for
high-register soloing), Chippendale’s athletic, tempo-busting
drumming, and inscrutable vocal effects that Chippendale produces
with a telephone microphone mounted in his mask.
It was deeply physical stuff, whether you were thrashing in
the pit or vibrating on the periphery, the benevolent violence
invigorating everything in-the-moment in order eventually
to leave it all beautifully, thankfully spent.