Good Institution, Bad Religion

Bad Religion and The Bronx at The Vogue Theatre, April 13, 2013.

Faith in your partner, your fellow men, your friends, is very important, because without it there’s no mutual component to your relationship, and relationships are important. So, faith plays an important role, but faith in people you don’t know, faith in religious or political leaders or even people on stages, people who are popular in the public eye, you shouldn’t have faith in those people. You should listen to what they have to say and use it.”- Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin, 1998.

Hailing from Los Angeles, The Bronx appeared just over ten years ago and released their fourth self-titled album at the beginning of February. Their sound is described as hardcore punk and hard rock. All five members have an alter-ego side-project called Mariachi el Bronx, which is a genuine mariachi band who have released two full-length albums and appeared on records by Canadian band Armistice and ska legends Madness. Check them out, because they are really talented.

Frontman Matt Caughthran was full of energy, swagger and enthusiasm while hopping and bopping around the stage in party-mode. “How y’all motherfuckers doing, tonight?!”, he must have asked us half a dozen times. He said that it was nice to be back on the West Coast again since the last time they were here in the fall opening for The Refused. When a flying beer can landed near him in between songs, he merely laughed it off and yelled “missed me!”

While there wasn’t much variety to The Bronx’ sound style — riffs and chord progressions and the screamed vocal patterns started to wear — the band’s confidence and passion was undeniable. During their 45-minute set their hard rock influences were much more obvious than their hardcore label; they reminded me of Turbonegro, Rocket from the Crypt, Nashville Pussy or a louder and dirtier Danko Jones.

Also from Los Angeles but together since late 1979, Bad Religion is currently touring their 16th full-length album True North. Beginning their set with “Past is Dead”, the band was in good spirits early as was the crowd. Singer Greg Graffin commented that it had been three years since they last came around during their 30-year anniversary tour, saying that two of those years “were spent doing nothing” before something materialized for another album. “This is a festive night and a festive place – this is a song that we normally reserve for encores and festivals”, he said before playing a slowed down version of “Generator”.

Guitarist and second chief songwriter (Mr.) Brett Gurewitz doesn’t tour with the band these days as he’s still involved with several record labels (including Epitaph) and production work, such as helping out on the new Rancid album. Besides, does a punk band really need three guitarists all playing together? Their sound was more than full enough with Brian Baker and Greg Hetson trading off on rhythm and lead parts on songs. Did I mention that they still flawlessly pull off their famous three-part vocal harmonies — the “oozin’ aahs”?

A few songs in, Graffin paid respect to the kids in the pit saying that he had spent years there at shows but now he’s “retired to the cheap seats,” while smiling at the balcony. Like a lot of aging bands, they may not look as good as they did when they started, but definitely don’t act geriatric live. Graffin briefly talked about touring and how it’s hard on their “old hips and joints”. He also said that Vancouver is like a second home to the band and added that he meant it literally as bassist (and other founding member) Jay Bentley used to own property here.

For the night’s all-ages sold out show, theatre managment decided to make it no ins-and-outs — which of course encouraged people to light up indoors, making it rather strange to see several children amongst plumes of cigarette/pot smoke and sloshing beers. Several bouncers walked around with flashlights to little effect.

Throughout The Bronx and Bad Religion’s sets there were multiple beer cans thrown on stage, but the bands must be used to it or took it as an annoying complement. Graffin actually picked one up after it barely missed him and questioned our tastes in brews. “Sapporo?! They’re owned by Coors,” the fatherly punk informed us.

Finishing their regular set at 11:15 with the excellent sing-alongs “American Jesusand “Sorrow, Bad Religion briefly exited then returned with the sweaty Greg Graffin cheekily saying “Excuse me, I was trying to have a shower,” before throwing the towel he was drying himself off with into the audience. “That’s something I learned from Elvis.”

“Fuck Armageddon…This is Hell”, “Vanity”, personal favourite “Infectedand “Department of False Hope” were played for the encore, ending the evening at 11:30. As an all-ages show, it was nice seeing a mix of the usual “alternative” demographic sprinkled with several 60-year-old women and 6-year-old kids witnessing the veteran band still going strong.