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BAD RELIGION - Birmingham Academy - 21 May 2002   Print  E-mail 
Written by Graham Reed  
Tuesday, 14 September 2004

Leaders and Followers!

In a world where musical trends move fast, Bad Religion remained steadfast, in keeping with making some of America's finest punk records for nigh on 20 years; and in the process, have - along with the Ramones - become just about the elder statesmen of the scene, legendary. Part of this is due to their elusiveness - this is their first UK tour in 7 years; and the turn out is high. Its like everyone wants to see a little bit of punk history. But what do you expect from Bad Religion? Ballads? Crossover hits? Nope. Just straight-ahead, honed-down to perfection finely played Punk Rock with all the zest and enthusiasm that bands 20 years their youngers might find difficult to match. Its like watching a History
lesson called "punk 101", where older men come along and say "Remember what you call punk? Well, this is how its done properly.. Listen"

What we get is a 29 songs in little over an hour - roughly 3 minutes per song. We get impressions of Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath covers, impromptu Black Metal songs and requests for Barney to come on stage (sadly, he's not there; but how many people knew it was Barney of Birmingham's own Napalm Death they meant rather than an obscure injoke?)..If, as Bad Religion are convinced it is, that Birmingham is the home of Metal, then the turnout surprises them even more. And of these 29 songs, just about every one of them is a bonafide punk classic. Short, Sharp, spiky, chock full of melody and agression, trimmed of excess fat and bullshit - it's a greatest hits set withcredibility and passion that the Offspring can only be jealous of.

From the opening "Suffer" to the closing "21st Century Digital Boy",the floor is one huge moshpit. The crowd is certainly a diverse one: 40 year punks with grey hair and original X-ray Spex shirts, bringing their 8 year old kids in Green Day tops, going down to the pit together, with the remainder of the audience made up of what seems to be an army of Durst clones. Sometimes watching the pit is like watching a fight in the school playground. It seems like Bad Religion can do no wrong tonight - interspersing the breakneck pace of the songs with a down-to-earth no-bullshit raport with the crowd that borders on stand up comedy at times such is its informality, before blasting out another 4 more.

 "Punk Rock Song" - the hit single that was never released in the UK, nice one Sony ultramegacorp - comes second, a savage blast of tune, melody and bounciness, with bitterly incisive lyrics. With every era of the band here in spades - from the first release in '81 to the most recent 21 years later - it's a DIY punk rock History. "The Defence " , from this years "Process of Belief" platter, could just as easily been on that debut, such is the way they stuck to their roots, didn't conform, didn't mould themselves into a nice, neat little commercial package for their major label owners in 1994. What were Sony thinking? Whatever they were thinking, they got a band that deserved better. Every song is like being read out of a who's who list of "definitive punk classics", and so what is they sound so similar they may as well have written only one song? We don't complain that bands like Oasis have been rewriting the same song for years, but at least Bad Religion rewrite their own rather than other peoples. When a songs this good, you don't complain. After all, they're Bad Religion, they're not gonna change their sound overnight, They're punk - that's what they do.

A smattering of new songs ("Supersonic", "Prove it") equal up to their previous material; Tracks like "Hooray for me" have the crowds singing along ecstatically (with its obscenely catchy "fuck you!" chorus), "Them & Us" and "Oligarchy" betray the bands leftist roots (look at the links section at their website if you doubt me...) , smattered thoughout with oldies like "No Control" , "Modern Man", "Atomic Garden" and "Recipe for Hate" next to newbies like "Epiphany" and "Defence". This being metal country tho', not all could go without recognition of that: the pre gig tape is Sabbath, and when they launch into Sabbaths "Iron Man" its as absurd as it is logical, before mutating into the catchy, yet criminally underheard "Come and Join Us".

But if there was ever any doubt as to why Bad Religion deserve these plaudits the `encore' shows us why..."Fuck Armageddon, this is Hell" certainly doesn't sound 21 years old, , and then "American Jesus" and "21st Century Digital Boy" round up the set. For all their in your face unrelenting punk intensity while playing , yet counterbalanced with down-to-earthiness on stage, Bad Religion emerge as forefathers of the scene that even at this advanced, receding hairlined age of late 30's can cut their teeth with any young whippersnappers ...and win. Its in the songs, the bitterly observed, astute and sociological lyrics, and the fact that without this band - Offspring, Green Day et al. would be but jackshit in the scheme of things. But ultimately it comes down to the music: chock full of melody, tunefulness, yet not sacrificing intensity or aggression, Bad Religion shows indeed why they've survived so long in a scene that
has a notoriously high turnover. Tonight felt like the presence of something special - and it was. Not unlike watching an american version of Motorhead for some reason....

It'd be a shame if we had to wait another 7 years before they toured again. The fact that they are now touring in support of their lesser imitators is a complete travesty: of taste, talent and integrity.The economy of songwriting here is tuned to perfection, catchy without compromise. Very few bands deserve to be afforded `legendary' status. This is one of those few.

Setlist: 1.Suffer 2.Punk Rock Song 3.Supersonic 4.You 5.Prove It 6.Hooray for me 7.Them And Us 8.Oligarchy  9.Defence 10.No Control 11.Epiphany 12.Modern man 13.Atomic Garden 14.Kyoto Now 15.Sorrow 16. (Black Metal improvisation) 17.Recipe for hate 18.I want to conquer the World 19.Generator 20.Broken  21.DO What You Want 22.'The Piano has been drinking' improvisation 23.Anathesia 24.iron Man excerpt / Come and Join Us 25.Change of Ideas 26. Leave Mine to me 27.Fuck Armageddon this is Hell 28.American Jesus 29.21Century Digital Boy

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