Originally published on November 23, 2010
November 19th at the Regency, San Francisco
During the week leading up to the Bad Religion show I attended, I kept thinking how impressive it was that the band has been playing punk shows for the past 30 years. Not only is it impressive that they have been able to make a living that long playing music that is usually important to most teens, but they also have survived despite members’ drug problems and other drama that usually forces bands apart. After seeing the show and understanding more of the group’s history, I think that a variety of reasons contribute to why Bad Religion is still selling out venues. They have created a band that is continuously meaningful to both them and their fans, and everyone involved loves it.
During the performance, it really looked like everyone on stage was stoked to be playing and genuinely having a great time. The band worked up a sweat during their charged performance as lead singer Greg Graffin soulfully sang his lyrics and joked with the crowd about early San Francisco touring experiences involving run-ins with transvestites. The crowd was very excited and responsive from the very beginning of the show, and a circle pit formed at the start of the song “We’re Only Gonna Die” that did not settle down until the end of the night. Other high-energy songs were “21st Century Digital Boy”, “Infected”, and “Los Angeles is Burning.” Even attendees all the way at the back of the room jumped up and yelled lyrics out to the stage. New material from their recent release, The Dissent of Man, also got a very enthusiastic cheer from the crowd as guitarist Brett Gurewitz strummed out power chords and sang along to “The Resistance.”
The band has been on tour countless times, but it didn’t remotely seem like they were worn out or wearily going through the motions of just playing another show in another town. The fact that the audience was just as excited about hearing tracks played off their new record as classic songs they had memorized years before proves that the band really does continue to be relevant to fans. They are not just a nostalgia act solely relying on ancient singles to draw in an older crowd. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty people in attendance that had obviously been following the band for years, but there were also a lot of young kids who were just as excited to see the group of 40 year olds rocking out. The band members still very much enjoy playing live after so many years, and their positive energy definitely translated to the crowd.
Bad Religion is also still on the scene because they continue to be passionate about sharing ideas and social commentary with fans through their music. Graffin is not just a snarky kid churning out three chord mindless songs to mosh to; he’s a guy that has always valued education and critical thought, and it shows in his writing. Bad Religion songs have always had a message to convey that is important to the band and their fans, whether it be about social behavior, religion, philosophy, or politics. The lyrics complement the band’s gnashed out guitar chords, three part vocal harmonies, and breakneck speed drum parts, and as long as the band has relevant messages to share, they will keep on being excited about writing new music.
Perhaps the most important factor that has helped Bad Religion persevere for 30 years is that members have other projects and interests that balance their lives and help them not burn out working with the band. Much of Bad Religion’s early years were organized around Graffin’s school schedule as he was working on multiple degrees. Today, this continues, as he is an author and a biology lecturer at UCLA in addition to being a punk rock frontman.
Gurewitz is also very involved with his record label, Epitaph Records. He originally created it to release Bad Religion’s albums, but it grew into a forefront label with a strong roster that propelled the punk revival of the 1980s. He still owns and manages the company, and much of his time is spent working with bands on Epitaph, as well as its sister labels he also started (ANTI-, Burning Heart Records, Fat Possum Records, and Hellcat Records).
So, to sum it up, Bad Religion’s secret success tips to having a long-term successful punk band: Be passionate about playing live, have genuine messages to convey to fans, and have a life outside of the group. If you put such passion and positive feelings into performances and writing, the audience will pick up on your enthusiasm, listen to your words, and keep coming to shows to give it their all and sweat it out in the pit.
Listen: Various Tracks [at myspace.com]