Walking out of Vinoy Park at about 8:30 p.m., I heard someone from the last band standing say to the crowd, "It's hard closing the Warped Tour if you're not Bad Religion."
True. The legendary punk-rock band had just finished its show on an adjacent stage minutes earlier, and the Warped throng -- already thinned out after more than eight hours -- was beating a hasty retreat. The wilted minions who stayed for Bad Religion enjoyed a feisty, propulsive 30 minutes of old-school punk. (Full disclosure: I arrived about 20 minutes before BR kicked off their set.)
There's something to be said for 30-minute sets, which is what Warped allots its acts, even headliners like Bad Religion. No time for easing into the performance, no protracted tune-ups between songs.
Aside from a couple of songs that skewed medium tempo, BR played one pell-mell, buzzsaw rocker after another. Three guitarists -- one dressed in nothing but lime-green shorts and flip-flops -- laid down a relentless grind of punchy chords. Drummers are punk's unsung heroes: They enable good bands to keep an audience enthralled with songs that all have basically the same beat. BR's Brooks Wackerman is a flat-out animal.
Forty-two-year-old singer Greg Graffin's dark hair is thinning on top, and he makes no concessions to punk fashion -- he wore a plain button-down shirt -- or histrionics. He ambled around the stage, his barbed bark expressive and just tuneful enough to deliver the band's brawny hooks. Graffin smiled easily and seemed to enjoy his role as a punk elder statesman.
So you're stuck taking the kids today to the Warped tour, punk rock's annual traveling summer camp. You could linger in the parents' area, aka AT&T's "Reverse Daycare" tent ?- we hear it's very nice. But you're cooler than that, aren't you? How about checking out some bands that might remind of your younger days? Here are some good bets, and a little suggested listening to get you up to speed:
Why you should care: They're probably older than you. And frontman Greg Graffin earned his Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from Cornell, so he's smarter than most of us, too.
Reminds us of . . . old-school punk, because that's what they are. The band formed in 1980.
Why the kids love them: Punk still matters.
What they say: "Angrier than ever, Bad Religion aims punk's adolescent fury at grownup targets." ?- Blender magazine's review of 2004's "The Empire Strikes First"
Extra-credit listening: Try "Suffer," or for more recent developments, the just-released "New Maps of Hell."
Fronting the eldest punk band on the bill, Bad Religion's Greg Graffin, a Racine native, looked like he might fit in better with the parents in "reverse baby-sitting" than with the young body surfers during a midday set. But by the time the had band charged through material spanning its 25-year career, Graffin had worked up as much of a sweat as many of the fans.
As a strong influence on many of the tour's other bands, Bad Religion hasn't let its politically charged lyrics weaken over the years. The new "Requiem for Dissent" played perfectly alongside tracks from its 1982 debut album, "How Could Hell Be Any Worse?"
Of course the tour is dominated by an amalgamation of alternative rock that runs from the piano-laden, happy-go-lucky pop of The Rocket Summer to the musically intricate and politically charged voice of Coheed & Cambria. Choosing can be hard but I?d like to suggest that you make it a point to check out Bad Religion. As one of the founding fathers of the hardcore/punk movement this band has released album after album of catchy, fast-paced rock with the most intelligent lyrics of the genre. It?s almost a crime to see them confined to 30 minutes of playing time but, as they don?t tour much these days, this may be your only chance to see them this year or next. Their set is likely to almost entirely consist of songs from their latest album, ?New Maps of Hell,? which is not the best album in their catalog, but seeing rock veterans control the stage like Bad Religion does is a rare sight these days and well worth your time.
But what about this skateboard music that doesn't get any airplay? Bad Religion was described by Kerrang magazine as a ?mix of everyman politics and humanitarian beliefs with combustible indignation that influenced everybody it touched in punk circles.? Leader Greg Graffin is a PhD holder and the owner of Epitaph Records, a major indie label.
The group's 2007 album ?New Maps of Hell? shows a maturity of sound and lyrics that rappers would admire on songs like ?52 Seconds,? ?Requiem for Dissent,? ?The Grand Delusion? and ?Fields of Mars.?
Five hours later on the same stage the punk veterans in Bad Religion (which was formed in 1980) drew a respectable crowd of young fans, happily singing along with Greg Graffin?s unhappy question: ?How could hell be any worse??
Perhaps Mr. Graffin isn?t amused, but the funny truth is that his famously left-wing band helped inspire the world of Warped, which is cheerful and not especially political.
"I recorded video of a few songs at the Warped Tour date in Columbia, Maryland. American Jesus:
Social Suicide (Partial):
I Want To Conquer The World:
Requiem For Dissent:
The show was great! I didn't have enough memory card space to record the rest of the songs, and besides, I wanted to slam dance (as Greg calls it)! They also played New Dark Ages, Infected, Suffer, Do What You Want, Fuck Armageddon (not in that order) and the last song was Sorrow. I think that may have been all, I might be missing one song. I was disappointed that they didn't play Heroes and Martyrs. Sorry that the video quality is not too great, I was right in the middle of the crowd!"