Bad Religion - Live in San Francisco (Cover Artwork)

Bad Religion

Live in San Francisco (2015)

live show

When this set of dates was announced, two nights per city with songs from 1980–2000 the first and 2002–2013 the second, I was intrigued. I greatly enjoyed the band's 30th anniversary approach, filling sets with deep cuts and b-side material, so perhaps this would be more of the same. Bad Religion promised via twitter to deliver over thirty songs per night. Including the "convenience fee" attached to the ticket price, this was a hair over a dollar per song. Well worth it. It also appeared that they were only pulling this particular stunt in Denver, Las Vegas, and San Francisco.

I've seen Bad Religion over twenty times in over two decades, from in front of 250 people at the Whisky a Go Go to large festival crowds. My favorite setting for them, however, is the mid-sized general admission hall. You know the kind of venue I mean—used to be a Golden Era movie theater or playhouse, has a large dance floor and typically some kind of balcony seating above. The Regency Ballroom in San Francisco is just such a place, and since it was renovated and reopened by Goldenvoice in 2008, Bad Religion has made this their Bay Area stop of choice. Capacity: a bit under 1,700 (for comparison, the Hollywood Palladium holds 3,700), where they played on April 19 and 20, 2015.

For my money the mid-size hall is the way to go because you usually get a better, more cohesive sound mix than at an outdoor concert, it's general admission, there is plenty of room for a mosh pit, and the only people on the floor are those that want to be there. Everyone else is upstairs in the seats. Which means a fair amount of audience camaraderie, singing along, etc. among the old timers and the die hards.

Upon walking into the lobby the first night, I immediately bumped into Fat Mike, who was distributing All Access stickers to Fat Wreck Chords employees. He looked happy and we parted with me admonishing him to "be good." It's always fun to run into Mike at local shows. The key is to be a prick to him; It's the only thing he responds to.

I was bummed to miss the Adolescents due to work / commute time, but I've seen them several times before. I settled into a pretty good spot on the floor about ten minutes before BR took to the stage, front and center, right at the bottom edge of the pit. It turns out that this is an ideal place to be at a general admission show in the age of the smartphone; No one dare risk losing their device to the pit to snap a photo or shoot a video clip, so the view of the band is mercifully unblocked. It's the thing that sucks the most about shows in the last decade or so. Put the fucking phone down and watch the goddamn show kids! That clip will suck and you'll never watch it again anyways. Live in the now.

So, first off. No "21st Century Digital Boy," despite it being on not one but two recordings of the 20th Century. But this made room for songs I haven't heard in twenty years live, like "The Handshake," one of my absolute favorite tracks on Stranger Than Fiction. No "Marked," but at least I heard that at one of the 30th Anniversary shows. Greg Graffin announced six songs in that there would be two "vintage" blocks, one from Suffer and one from No Control. So in addition to rare performances of "Slaves" and "The Hopeless Housewife," we got gems like "Delirium of Disorder" and "Billy."

They opened the twentieth century with 1996 and "Spirit Shine" off The Gray Race, which at first I thought an odd choice, but then upon reflection found it rather apt: "You can take it all to heart or throw it all away." In other words, Bad Religion are over trying to please anybody. Love these songs as we do, or don't. It's the kind of confidence only the most veteran of performers can project.

Dr. Graffin has adopted an autumnal years look now. He's stopped dying his hair black, and wears glasses on stage. And yet he's as vivacious and witty as ever. His humor has always been wry for sure, but as he (and the band) have gotten older, he comments lean even more towards self-effacement. "Thanks for being so kind to us," he tells the crowd at one point. "It's like seeing Grandma and Grandpa for what might be their last Christmas."

Without Greg Hetson to jump around, Jay Bentley is by far the most physically interesting player to watch throughout the set. He's energetic and funny and sometimes plays the straight man to Graffin's inter-song commentary, pretending to not get the joke. He also frequently requested that more "Pot Weed" smoke from the front be blown his way. Brooks Wackerman, who you could say is to the road what Josh Freese is to the studio, played solid as always. He's not an annoying show-off like Travis Barker, he just gets in there and gets grease on his elbows and gets the job done. Done right.

Not everyone has aged so gracefully. Brian Baker looks a full decade older than the last time I saw BR, and that was last year. He's tired and weary and he still plays the opening to "Recipe for Hate" like he wrote it and that it's the most astounding combination of barre chords ever constructed. As for lead work, he does do great when he's playing a riff he wrote, but he cannot bring the thunder when it comes to Brett's parts. The solo for "The Handshake" suffered (pardon the pun) because of this.

But the true disappointment is Mike Dimkich, formerly of The Cult. He's a snappy dresser and an able rhythm guitar player, but man the guy cannot solo to save his life. He just grabs a couple notes and pulls them. Over and over. It's like he's never listened to the lead work on the albums. "I Want to Conquer the World" was particularly butchered. "Along the Way" was not much better. I thought the same the first time I saw him perform with BR. To add insult to injury, he chewed gum for the entire performance, including the encore. It's really hard to take someone seriously while chewing gum; try it sometime. Maybe he's trying to quit smoking? It's true that you don't miss certain things until they are actually gone, and Greg Hetson falls into that category.

The second night I again had to miss the Adolescents due to work / commute time. Upon arriving I struck up a conversation near the front bar with Joey Cape of Lagwagon about their new album. Always polite and kind, a true gentleman of punk rock.

Before long it was time to get out onto the floor. This show had not sold out in advance, although it probably did before the night was over. The floor was not nearly as full before Bad Religion took the stage, and it was easy to move around. I began the show on the bottom edge of the pit as before, but during the first song I easily advanced up and wound up on the barricade right in front of Dr. Graffin. Nice. I was a pit warrior and barricade for years, but that was a long time ago. This was the closest I had been to the band since seeing them at The Echo in L.A. in 2013.

This second night was a magical evening. The band was playing their hearts out, even perhaps more so than the night before. Graffin and Bentley were pure passion on each and every song, even if Mike Dimkich still delivered a lackluster lead performance (while, again, chewing gum the whole time). Jay seemed to be poking fun at Mike's wardrobe a bit, for he began the set dressed in near-identical pants, shirt, and leather jacket.

Graffin bantered less with the crowd over all, and the band focused on playing loud, and playing hard. The set was a mixed bag, with some deeper cuts I was very stoked to hear ("Only Rain," "Can't Stop It," "Beyond Electric Dreams," and "Fields of Mars") but missing some obvious fan favorites too ("All There Is" or "The Resist Stance"). There are far fewer albums from the 21st Century to choose from, so each got a better and more
balanced representation.

First night: 7/10
Second night: 9/10
Average: 8/10

Setlist, first night:

Spirit Shine
Recipe for Hate
We're Only Gonna Die
Stranger Than Fiction
Against the Grain
Sowing the Seeds of Utopia

You Are (The Government)
1000 More Fools
How Much Is Enough?
Delirium of Disorder
Do What You Want

The Gray Race
Part III
The Hopeless Housewife
Modern Man
No Direction

Change of Ideas
Big Bang
I Want to Conquer the World

Struck a Nerve
The Handshake
American Jesus

Along the Way
New America
Fuck Armageddon... This Is Hell

Setlist, second night:

Kyoto Now!
Social Suicide
Los Angeles Is Burning
52 Seconds
Heroes & Martyrs
Only Rain
True North
Prove It
Can't Stop It
Robin Hood in Reverse
Beyond Electric Dreams
Submission Complete
Let Them Eat War
Changing Tide
The Defense
Fuck You
Dharma and the Bomb
Before You Die
Dearly Beloved
Dept. of False Hope
Sinister Rouge
Wrong Way Kids
New Dark Ages

Past Is Dead
Fields of Mars