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Bad Religion at Irving Plaza... 3 Times

In Section: PRESS Play » Posted By: Liza Eckert

I’d seen Bad Religion before, but it was when I was in high school and the band opened for Blink 182. It was at the Darien Lake performing arts center near Buffalo, which had seats and security guards that made you stay in them.

Really, all I remember about it was arguing with some girl in my gym class the following Monday about why Bad Religion was a far superior band to Blink. It’s cool, though, because now I’ve seen BR four times and she totally hasn’t.

October 20: The 1980s

I enter the concert with a regular ticket, not a press pass, so my first taste of Irving Plaza that night is an argument with the bouncers about taking my SLR camera inside. I stand no chance at winning this dispute, so I hand over my beloved Canon Rebel and $2 to the woman at coat check. Maybe not the best start to the evening, but at least the guy checking IDs wishes me a happy birthday.

Off With Their Heads is playing when I get upstairs, still fuming a little and slightly paranoid that my Rebel won’t be there at the end of the show. What I see of the set is pretty good, so that starts to balance out my aggravation. When it ends, there is a tap on my shoulder. Some friends. We go to the bar, where I fork over $7 for a PBR and grumble about it.

We stand around until the Aggrolites start. No one seems too interested, and I know I will see it again next week, so we make our way downstairs. We head back upstairs just before Bad Religion starts. By now it’s so crowded that the room is basically overflowing.

The lights dim. We make our way a little farther forward in the crowd, but I’m 5’6” and consequently shorter than the mostly-male audience, so I can’t see much. Bad Religion plows right into “Do What You Want,” then “How Much is Enough?” and “We’re Only Gonna Die.”

“I haven’t played this since 1983,” Greg Graffin says from the stage before the band plays “Slaves,” from its eponymous 1980 7-inch debut. No matter, it’s flawless. Surprisingly, the band plays “Billy Gnosis,” a track from the oft-purposefully-forgotten 1983 album Into the Unknown, which was a bizarre and slightly terrifying foray into synthesized prog-rock. The album was just reissued for the first time with the recent box set. Fortunately, the band didn’t bust out any keytars tonight.

The three shows are supposed to be separated by decade, and night one was releases from the 1980s, however the group did throw something in for the people who aren’t going to all three shows, playing a few numbers from the newest release, The Dissent of Man: “Avalon” and “The Resist Stance.” Bad Religion also plays “Los Angeles is Burning,” from 2004’s The Empire Strikes First as an encore, and close with “Sorrow” from The Process of Belief.

October 26: The 1990s

I’ve managed to get a photo pass for the remaining shows, so I don’t have to worry about checking my SLR at the door.

Off With Their Heads has just started when I get up there. Like last time, I’m not particularly familiar with the music, but I enjoy the set. When the Aggrolites come on, I make a point to pay attention, since I had missed out last time. At first I couldn’t figure out how a mellow-ish ska band got on this bill, but after a few minutes, it doesn’t matter. It’s good. Whether or not what the group does seems fitting between Off With Their Heads and Bad Religion, it’s OK because it’s done well. The band bounces through the set and I come out the other side pleased with what I’ve seen.

Before Bad Religion starts, I slip into the photographer’s pit in front of the stage. This is only the second concert I’ve covered where I got a photo pass, so there’s still some novelty left for me about how close I get to be. As the stagehand tapes down the set lists, I hold my camera up and snap a picture so I can see what they’re going to play. Someone standing in the front row asks if he can see my photo and I oblige. I realize that the 1990s are the decade of the band’s catalog I am the least familiar with. But I pick a few from the list I love (“Stranger than Fiction,” “Generator” and “Punk Rock Song”) and notice a few I remember hearing last week (“The Resist Stance” and “Avalon” from the new album, “Infected,” “American Jesus” and “Sorrow”). Looks good.

I’m frantically snapping pictures for the first three songs, so I barely pay attention to the music. The fourth song is “Stranger than Fiction,” and I’m praying the guards don’t kick us out yet. They don’t. Now I’m shooting while singing along, which is sort of strange. After the song ends, the photographers get ushered away.

I’m standing to the side of the crowd, outside a barricade. It’s nice not to have to obsessively protect my camera. I’m comfortably familiar with the songs, though not as well versed as I was with the 1980s, so I sing the few lyrics I know and enjoy the rest.

The band starts “Generator,” but something isn’t right. I can’t see exactly what went wrong from where I’m standing, but it may have been a mic malfunction. Restart. This time the audience takes over for the intro. It’s a great song, and apparently everyone in the building knows all the words.

The set list says the encore will be “American Jesus,” “Punk Rock Song” and “Sorrow.” Two out of three I heard last week, but “Punk Rock Song” is one of my favorites. Wait, what’s that? After “American Jesus,” the band launches into “Fuck Armageddon…This is Hell,” then into “Sorrow.” They got my hopes up. I guess that’s what I get for peeking at the set list ahead of time.

October 27: The 2000s

I’m exhausted. I’m on my third Bad Religion show in a week, plus I covered some CMJ over the weekend, I’m going to grad school during the day and I’m just getting over a cold. So I’m slow going, and I don’t get to Irving Plaza until just after 9.

When I get upstairs, the Aggrolites is a couple of songs into the set. It’s probably too late to get into the photo area, so I stand back and listen. I recognize a few of the songs from the night before, and I decide that I dig the “dirty reggae” sound.

During the set changeover, I make my way into the photo area. I don’t heed my own advice and I snap a picture of the set list, once again taking note of the songs that BR have played all three nights and my favorites. In the end, I luck out and the band doesn’t leave any of the good ones off the list this time.

I was looking forward to hearing The Empire Strikes First. That album actually meant a lot to me when it came out. I was living in a red state, and it made me feel slightly better about being practically the only person around who wasn’t taking political crazy pills. I was glad to hear “Los Angeles is Burning” again, as well as “Sinister Rouge,” “Social Suicide” and “Let Them Eat War.” The only song I can say I really wish had been played is “Atheist Peace.” But the band picked a decent sampling, and all three nights played a good cross-section of the albums featured at each show.

In case you’re playing along at home, here’s the tally. There were six songs the band played all three nights: “Avalon,” “Resist Stance,” “American Jesus,” “Fuck Armageddon…This is Hell,” “Infected” and “Sorrow.” It played “Wrong Way Kids,” “Along the Way,” “New Dark Ages,” “Devil in Stitches” and “Los Angeles is Burning” twice. And 52 other songs came up once each.

Across the board, the band didn’t disappoint. After 30 years, Bad Religion manage to play shows with energy and power, and somehow still turn an entire packed house into a massive sing-along. Some combination of talent, brains (Graffin has a Ph.D., after all), perseverance and possibly black magic has kept them going strong all this time through their ups and downs, their label and line-up changes, and everything else. At this rate, they show no signs of stopping. The world will end, and what will be left will be cockroaches, Styrofoam cups and Bad Religion.

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