“Free Bad Religion tickets? What the hell, we’ll bite.” Such was The Spin’s mentality last night when we trucked out to War Memorial 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 30-somethings and Warped Tour lot rats.
Normally we’d opt for cancer over the over-wrought, circa-2002 post-hardcore stylings of openers Polar Bear Club and thus spend their 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 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 last night, filling in for Bad Religion uber-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, as we found out at last night, this week’s shows were almost cancelled when, tragically, Wackerman had to take sudden leave to mourn the death of his mother. Luckily Port — a noted BR 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 last night’s gig 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-long 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 smart phone 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 BR 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-stong 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?