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Is there a draft in here? Greg Graffin of Bad Religion.

Photo: Joe Putrock

Wet Hot American Punk

By David King

Bad Religion

Northern 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 sweating.

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 rallying lyrics.

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.

 

Beautiful Violence

Lightning Bolt, Dan Deacon Ensemble

Northern 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.

—Josh Potter


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