Bad Religion (photo: Joshua Huver)
On Sunday October 30, downtown San Francisco hosted an old-school punk rock extravaganza put together by SoCal’s Bad Religion.
An indisputable pillar of punk rock, Bad Religion announced The Vox Populi tour ahead of the 2016’s highly-anticipated Riot Fest events in Chicago and Denver. Sunday’s performance at The Warfield marked the beginning of the final week of the 23-date tour.
Also featured on the bill for the evening was Against Me! and cult favorite Dave Hause, performing a (mostly) solo acoustic set. Hause is a legend when it comes to blue-collar punk rock, cutting his teeth and earning his chops as a member of several bands since the mid-’90s, as well as a respected solo career. Hause’s voice is rich and gravelly, like an angry Chris Cornell’s. There was an unyielding sense of urgency in every strum, and with his younger brother Tim coloring the message with key flourishes and electric lead nuances, the overall result was captivating. “It can’t always be Slayer and guitar solos,” Hause joked.
But most of Hause’s music was more on the serious side, steeped in the pro-intelligence motto of “question everything.” His authoritative presence, coupled with his punk rock penchant for anger and social justice, resonated through songs like “Autism Vaccination Blues,” “Season’s Greetings From Ferguson,” and “Prague (Revive)” were far from laughing matters.
Tim left the stage for Dave’s solo serenade of “Time Will Tell” but when he returned for the next song, he brought Adam Willard of Against Me! And Jay Bentley from Bad Religion with him. Check out the video below:
Hause’s seven-song set was just over a half-hour long, but provided a good charge for the early crowd. By the end of the set the crowd had more than doubled, and less than 20 minutes after finishing, Against Me! was already on stage, turning the energy up to 11.
The Vox Populi tour is the first time that the two distinct brands of Against Me! and Bad Religion’s socio-political consciousness have shared a bill, and although they represent different issues, different generations, and different nuances of punk rock, the ultimate message is recognized and shared across their fan base. The two bands were scheduled to tour together in 2013, but all shows were cancelled in March of that year amid constant lineup changes in Against Me!
Since their 1997 inception in Florida, Against Me! has been a band about getting a message out. Even though the line-up has changed drastically over the years, founding vocalist/guitarist Laura Jane Grace decided to continue using the original moniker in the spirit of raising awareness surrounding issues she and the band members feel passionately about.
In July of this year, the band released Shape Shift With Me, but that night’s performance included deep cuts that reached all the way back to their 2002 debut Reinventing Axl Rose as well as songs from the new record. For the first five songs, Against Me! enthusiastically bounced Shape Shift With Me‘s “333” and “Haunting, Haunted, Haunts” and 2014’s critically acclaimed Transgender Dysphoria Blues.
Deep cuts from the band’s early era included the B-side “Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%” as well as fan favorites “Walking Is Still Honest” and “Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong” from 2002’s Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose.
They only reached into the middle of their discography once for “I Was A Teenage Anarchist” off of 2010’s White Crosses near the end, using the energy to carry over into the closer “Black Me Out” from Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Grace did not address the crowd very often, but between her, Willard’s monster drumming, and the back-and-forth nonstop energy of bassist Inge Johansson and James Bowman, there was never a dull moment in the 14-song, 45-minute set.
Bad Religion took a half hour to set up, and when the road crew raised the enormous Vox Populi banner, the crowd’s anticipation momentarily broke into an uproar. The band’s equipment was spread out, giving each member as much room as the stage could offer. At 9:30pm, the lights went down and an audio montage of inspirational quotes from world famous speeches, immediately launching into “You Are (The Government)” from 1988’s Suffer.
Bad Religion is a band of punk rock legends in and of itself, but one of the perks of getting to hear the message of lead vocalist Greg Graffin’s lyrics is without a doubt the punishing lead guitar work of Brian Baker, founding bassist of the hardcore punk band Minor Threat. In 1994, Baker turned down a spot in R.E.M. (at arguably the height of their career) in order to joined Bad Religion.
Bentley was the most animated on stage by far. Although the freewheelin’ Graffin may have had more space to roam, Bentley often was leaning into the crowd, spinning or standing on his tip toes to belt out backing vocals.
The band touched on nearly every record of their 37-year history, and with as much anger and vitriol as when songs like “Come Join Us,” “Let Them Eat War,” “Fuck You,” and “Against The Grain” were written. In an hour and a half, the band hit 29 different songs, not skipping over perennial favorites “Generator,” “Recipe For Hate,” “21st Century Digital Boy,” and the set closer, “American Jesus.”
The crowd was on fire all night, and nearly the entirety of the floor area was consumed in one large mosh pit. Crowd surfers were passed over the railing over and over and over again with a seemingly endless supply of energy that came to ahead during the encore.
A three song selection, the encore included their largest commercial hits, “Infected,” “Sorrow,” and ended with the ever so bluntly titled “Fuck Armageddon… This Is Hell.”