See The Spin's review of R. Stevie Moore, Religious Girls, Belle Beau and Yer Heart here.
"Free Bad Religion tickets? What the hell, we'll bite." Such was The Spin's mentality last Wednesday night when we trucked out to War Memorial Auditorium to see the venerable skate-punk vets bring a slice of Southern California to Nashville on a what-the-fuckedly cold night. Turns out it was the band's first Music City appearance in its 33-year history.
Forget that it was 30 degrees outside, it was the first night of spring and, like taking a frozen piss in the face of Mother Nature, spacer-be-lobed dude bros were gonna wear their shants come hell or high water ... especially high water, we noticed while surveying the guess-timated thousand-strong crowd of brainy-looking, bespectacled punk thirtysomethings and Warped Tour lot rats.
During the over-wrought, circa-2002 post-hardcore stylings of openers Polar Bear Club, we spent most of the set sucking down squares in the smoking section. But as noted, it was freezing out, and even regular adult-length pants weren't enough to drag us out of the auditorium. So, Polar Bear Club. It was Wednesday night, but this band totally sounded like Thursday, which is just great if you still carry a torch for emo. For snobs like us, even more stupefying than the sight of the band's vocalist Jimmy Stadt punctuating his scream-singing by cracking invisible whips, starting invisible lawn mowers and spastically hopping about the stage like an 8-year-old on Adderall for the first time, was the revelation that there are dudes still carrying the emo torch with enough enthusiasm to start bands like Polar Bear Club.
Especially enthusiastic was PBC drummer Steve Port, who pulled double-duty, filling in for Bad Religion über-skin-beater Brooks Wackerman. From the start it seems drummer woes have plagued this Bad Religion tour. First, originally scheduled openers Against Me! pulled out of the jaunt when they couldn't find a replacement for departed pounder Jay Weinberg (Max's kid). Then, we learned, the week's shows were almost cancelled when Wackerman had to take sudden leave to mourn the death of his mother. Luckily Port — a noted B.R. superfan — stepped up to the plate and, we must note, totally nailed the gig. Although few things could out-tire a Spinal Tap reference in a concert review, it's worth noting that Wackerman actually has played drums in Spinal Tap.
It's also worth noting that The Whigs perhaps have a policy against opening for bands with bald dudes, as the recent local transplants pulled out of the gig at the last minute, after being added to the bill at the 11th hour. To be honest, The Whigs' cancellation came as kind of a relief when we caught a glimpse of Bad Religion's three-page, 30-song set list. We just don't have enough nostalgic teen angst to tap into and last us that long. Not only that, but our smartphone batteries were knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door.
We stopped worrying about it turning into a long night when, seven minutes into their set, Bad Religion had already plowed through four songs. Then the band totally floored us with an anthem-chocked five pack including, one after the other, favorites like "Anesthesia," a punk-rock "Kumbaya"-style sing-along version of "Generator," "I Don't Wanna Conquer the World," a scorching "21st Century Digital Boy" and the latter-career staple "Los Angeles Is Burning," which thankfully was not adapted as "Nashville Is Burning." Seriously glad B.R. doesn't pull that gimmick from city to city.
Given this was the band's first Nashville show, it was fitting that the set list provided a rock-solid catalog overview, touching on the most fist-pump-inducing fuck-authority standouts from their sprawling 16-LP-strong discography. But then again, it's hard for a punk band to avoid giving a catalog overview with a 90-minute set. Even selections from the band's recent effort True North inspired slam dancers to shout along. And during '80s punk classics like the indelible "Do What You Want," "No Control" and "Fuck Armageddon ... This Is Hell" we almost got a wild hair up our asses and decided to pick up some change in the pit. Unfortunately we were still a little exhausted in the wake of SXSW.
Throughout the set, the band's middle-aged members looked like they were still in it for the fury and the message. Singer Greg Graffin — who between lines interprets the music with facial expressions and hand gestures weird enough to freak out a hobo wino — ring-led 120 decibels of positive aggression like an impassioned professor of punk values, while Greg Hetson, who still, like his fans, rocks shants and plays a Gibson SG bigger than his own body, jumps and stomps at every pre-chorus pause and shouts background vocals sans microphone.
All in all it was a good gig. It didn't sell out, but from the looks of the merch lines it seemed like almost everyone there left with a new T-shirt. Does that make Bad Religion the Rolling Stones of skate-punk?
The best and worst thing about the Road to Bonnaroo 8 off 8th competition series is that it is always, always packed. It's great that people are getting out and seeing local music, but when the Mercy Lounge lobby is packed with people trying to avoid the cold, sleety weather a full 10 minutes before the doors are even open, you know you're going to have a stranger's hair in your face at some point.
"Do you think they like The Killers?" The Spin was asked regarding the first-up Vinyl Thief. We do! And it seemed like a fair amount of girls in the crowd liked Vinyl Thief, based on our unscientific measurement of screaming. Their second song (of the allotted three) was the best, more organ-driven funk as opposed to attempts at U2-style arena anthems. It sounded like it could be in a car commercial. Like, a good car commercial.
Psych rockers Ranch Ghost played two-thirds of their set behind a sheet — probably an idea that's much better in concept than execution. We think they thought it would look like shadow people playing, but the lighting plus screen projection (trees?) plus fog machine kind of washed everything out. The Ghosties dropped the curtain during their third song — the sheet looked pretty cool billowing down — which, like the first two, was a loud blues-infused garage-rock number. "Reminds us of the first time we smoked weed" and "sweaty?" are two of the more pertinent notes The Spin took during their set, which we think means they would go over well at Bonnaroo. Lots and lots of cheers for this band, and they seemed at the time like the crowd favorite of the night. Appearances, it would later turn out, are sometimes exactly what they seem.
Shannon LaBrie unfortunately started her set at the same time we started a bathroom break. We couldn't see her first song, but she sounded like a smoky, dark female vocalist, like the evil twin of Vonda Shepard. Easily the most low-key act of the night. Ravello (auto-corrected by our phone to "rave lol") was exactly the opposite: a straight-faced cock-rock act featuring such loud guitars that on their last song we literally could not hear any vocals during the chorus. Standing relatively close to the stage, we were vibrating from ankles to ass, which made us worry about the band's eardrums. And our asses and ankles.
Hanzelle was the only band of the night that — to our knowledge — has played at the Ryman (supporting Brandon Jazz when he opened for The B-52's), which is weird to think about. Easily the most contemporary/least nostalgic act of the night, their club-oriented electro-pop gave us pretty much our only opportunity to dance around a little. There were mini-trampoline performers with light-up balloons for Hanzelle's last number, which may have read a little too art school for the crowd, though we were informed that Phish once used trampolines during their set, too. There was a tonal 180 degrees next, with Little Bandit. The tongue-in-cheek balladeers basically multiplied themselves thrice over, adding strings, a horn section and backing vocalists. We're kind of suckers for a good horn section, so it was a welcome addition, and the least-gimmicky gimmick of the night.
The crowd had begun to filter out and energy had started to flag by the time blues-riffin' duo Blackfoot Gypsies went on, but the bummer spot of the night (pity the band playing last) went to country-folk songster Andrew Combs and his tight band. Both acts maintained the night's '70s-era rock vibe, which was capped off by a "secret set" from Clarksville's own (wink) Lazer Snake, the most energetic fake Ed Hardy band that is a real band, kind of. Many congratulations for staying in character all night.
So who won that coveted Bonnaroo performance slot thanks to fan and judge voting? Longtime Cream faves Ranch Ghost took it, and congratulations. Your Bonnaroo-style music will fit right in. At Bonnaroo. Musically.
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