TEXT/PHOTOS BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS
Thirty-four years is a long time to do any job, let alone be in a punk band. In their over three decades, Bad Religion has become not just another punk rock band, they have become, for lack of a better word, an institution. Their “thinking man’s punk” approach has set them apart as the band that one discovers when the teenage appeal of meathead rock loses its simplistic luster or accessibility. In other words: When you grow up and your appetite for border pushing music comes calling, Bad Religion is the band you seek.
Last time Bad Religion played in Lawrence, Kansas, Bill Clinton was President and they were on the 1997 Warped Tour pushing their latest The Gray Race. After such a long time absence from the stage in The Sunflower State a rolling sense of excitement, anxiety and anticipation was palpable. The Granada was practically vibrating, packed to critical mass with a 70-30% mix of young people who had never experienced Bad Religion live and old bastards like me that had seen them before, wondering if the band still had gas in the tank. Could they keep up the intensity of their extensive catalog without melting into something that resembled a poorly executed Jell-O mold?
Even before the show began, there was a low rumble, a building pressure of 2,000 souls ready to explode on command and explode they did. Not only was there gas left in the Bad Religion tank, they came with rocket fuel and never let off the throttle.
From the second that Graffin, guitarists Brian Baker and Greg Hetson, drummer Brooks Wackerman and bassist Jay Bentley came in from the shadows, it was clear that we were in for a good show. An air of the returning conquering heroes hovered over them, they were here to play a great show, no screwing around.
From the opening chords of “Past is Dead” from the new record True North, it was clear they had spent significant time building a set list for everyone. Their career was well represented; “New Dark Ages,” “Generator,” “No Control,” the obvious crowd favorite “I Want To Conquer the World.” They broke out the “hit” from the landmark album Recipe for Hate “American Jesus” and a great new track “Robin Hood in Reverse.” Graffin and the boys wanted everyone, every level of fandom to have a good time, an experience that would forever be burned into their gray matter as if placed there by a white-hot branding iron.
Whether you went there wanting to hear “21 Century Digital Boy,” “Fuck Armageddon,” or “Against the Grain,” you got what you wanted if you stuck around for the over two hours. Frankly, an audience member would’ve either had to a) been seriously hurt in the massive, seething mosh pit that engulfed the entire front section of The Granada, b) not been a real fan, in which case you probably shouldn’t have been there anyway or c) been mentally deficient in some way. Only for one or all of these three reasons was it acceptable to leave early during what turned out to be perhaps the best punk rock show I had ever seen.
In a time where Hot Topic and Green Day like bands represent “punk rock” and guys like me, with their gray hairs, spare tire and stories about “the good old days” are exceedingly looked upon as irrelevant dinosaurs, it was great to see a “real” punk band come out and blow the doors off everyone in attendance.
Kids, I witnessed punk rock on that Monday night. It was not skinny jeans, a faux hawk, slim fit t-shirts and $500 pre-distressed leather jackets. It was a balding, polo shirt wearing gentleman that looked more like your science teacher than a bonafide punk rock icon. Lo, his name was Graffin and he was good. Now, go forth and spread the Gospel.