No matter where you stand politically, the current US election is crazy, unpredictable and pretty shameful. Whether it be the way political rhetoric has been dragged through the mud or the outright jingoism of Donald Trump. Political discourse has morphed from a tense, yet respectful exchange of ideas into a two-headed beast that can’t turn either head to see the opposing side. This has resulted in an exposure bubble, where the only perspective is that of our own and anything else is an attack on ourselves at the core. It’s this kind of social hellscape where becoming disenchanted feels right, yet oddly the antidote came in the form of a punk rock show on a rainy Wednesday night in Seattle. The Vox Populi Tour featuring Dave Hause, Against Me! and the eternally relevant Bad Religion was in town and damn it was good.
Some Light Strumming to Stoke the Flames
Dave Hause has been a solid songwriter for quite some time, most notably in The Loved Ones. It was great to see him bring his younger brother Tim out for a stripped down performance. A few songs into the set he switched from electric to acoustic, which got a cheer from the already packed audience. He didn’t miss a beat, observing that this was the first time on the tour that any Bad Religion crowd had reacted in such a way. As his set was winding down Jay Bentley of Bad Religion and Atom Willard of Against Me! came out to help play ‘Dirty Fucker’, which Dave Hause dedicated to Donald Trump along with ‘We Could be Kings’ from Devour to close out the set.
A Defiant, Vulnerable Scream
This tour was supposed to happen three years ago, but Against Me! had to back out at the last minute due to drummer Jay Weinberg quitting the band. While it was a sad moment for fans of both bands, I knew deep down that it would happen eventually. Because if there’s one pairing that’s perfect for these politically tumultuous times it’s Against Me! and Bad Religion.
Laura Jane Grace and company stormed the stage with poise and the perfect amount of vulnerability as they went right into ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’. They kept things moving along blazing through ‘333’ and ‘Haunting, Haunted, Haunts’ from their amazing new album Shape Shift with Me. The crowd was eating up every moment and then it happened, they played ‘Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%’ from The Disco Before the Breakdown. While this may not seem like a big deal to the newer fans who’ve come into the fold over the years, but for those of us who have been around since 2002, it felt good to scream our heads off to this deep cut yet again.
Against Me! has morphed over the years, going from Laura singing alone in coffee shops to playing huge world tours with various lineups. And this current iteration is the strongest I have ever seen them, with Atom Willard doing his best impersonation of Animal from the Muppets behind the drums and Inge Johansson bringing an unstoppable energy to bassist position.
Hopefully Against Me! will make their way back to Seattle soon on a headlining tour, because 45 minutes is barely enough time to lose your voice.
A Worthwhile Legacy
At this point, it would be ridiculous for me to even hide that Bad Religion is my favorite band. They’ve consistently released amazing records, and even the detours in style have their charm, at least they’ve tried different things. Also, you don’t find the love of your life because everything is perfect all the time, you realize how amazing they are in how they rebound from missteps and how you grow together. And who isn’t a little embarrassed by what they did in the 90s? They are also one of the most relevant bands, writing songs that have not only influenced entire generations but put society under a microscope worth looking through.
They didn’t waste any time, jumping right into ‘You Are (The Government)’ and the timely ‘I Want to Conquer the World’ before taking pause, which allowed singer Greg Graffin a moment to muse about this being the weirdest election cycle he’s ever witnessed. It was right back to the breakneck pace of ‘New Dark Ages’ right into ‘Atomic Garden’, proving that the newer material pairs perfectly with the older staples. Bassist Jay Bentley must have a secret supply of some kind of space age energy supplement, because he runs around the stage, beaming his trademark smile at the audience without slowing down.
Anthems for Past, Present and Future Generations
A highlight of the evening had to be when Laura Jane Grace came back on stage to sing Tim Armstrong’s part from ‘Television‘. Her face had a smile across it, which could only be removed when she screamed her head off. From that point on it was a whirlwind of classics such as ‘Suffer’, ‘No Control’, ’21st Century (Digital Boy)’, ‘You’, ‘Do What You Want’ and ‘American Jesus’ mixed with more rarely played songs like ‘The New America’ and ‘The Streets of America’. The set was a constant onslaught of reminders of why Bad Religion will always have a place in the record collection of any kid who feels different, pissed off or wants more from punk than anger.
Bad Religion’s set was coming to an end when they played ‘Sorrow’, which also resulted in the largest sing-along of the evening. They then threw it back to the very beginning as they closed the evening with ‘Fuck Armaggedon…This Is Hell’, causing the dancers in the pit to give everything they had left as they ran around in a circle. Bad Religion can’t come back quick enough and hopefully, they bring along another amazing opener. Or maybe a co-headline tour with a certain band who also has a bespectacled, P.hD. holding lead singer and who just released an amazing album on Epitaph. I can dream, can’t I?