Taking the stage to the apropos, tongue-in-cheek instrumental strains of Jesus Christ Superstar, Bad Religion would proceed to conduct a supersonic onslaught that inspired an insta–mosh pit among the assembled faithful gathered to worship and celebrate the punk icons and their 35-year tenure.
The second in the band’s four-night stand in New York showcased material exclusively from the “twenty-first century” (whereas the previous eve highlighted only “twentieth century” BR cuts), and by the 45-minute mark, twenty stellar songs had been powered through with unflagging energy and tight-as-a-drum musicianship.
Frontman Greg Graffin, who has a Ph.D. from Cornell and lectures in evolution, life science, and paleontology, has lost none of the subversive fun, smarts, and humor that have been the band’s trademark since its 1979 inception. Instrumentally, there’s nary a weak link in Bad Religion: Guitarist Brian Baker and bassist Jay Bentley are a joy to watch, their unbridled energy and enthusiasm contagious, with newest member Michael John Dimkich fitting in seamlessly with a Johnny Thunders–meets–Steve Jones (Sex Pistols) cool. While there are only two original members — Bentley and Graffin — Bad Religion’s signature sound remains, and the crowd, who came in a surprising range of ages, sang along with every song.
There were no lowlights and numerous highlights, including “Los Angeles Is Burning,” a mid-tempo romp that’s less punk than perfect pop, while 2010’s “Only Rain” and 2013’s “True North” ruled. Bentley’s vocal contribution to “Social Suicide” — and the band’s excellent use of stellar three-part harmonies — make them at once polished and yet irresistibly frenetic.
Stage-divers — talking to you, beefy dork dude in the Misfits T-shirt — were almost too frequent, though it was heartening to see several women taking the plunge, with more obvious songs like the pull-no-punches “Fuck You” as welcome as more thoughtful fare such as “Wrong Way Kids” (off 2010’s strong Dissent of Man).
With amazing chops, the credibility of the Clash, and some of the humor of fellow L.A. band the Vandals, Bad Religion are a perfect storm of smarts and subversion. “The Defense,” from 2002, is a monumental rock song (with lyrics including “To state the obvious, this world is perilous for us”), while the seemingly anti-war “Fields of Mars” (“To live a life of hostility/Never asking what it means/When mother nation/Blood and religion/Sanction killing upon the Fields of Mars”) proved a fitting second and final encore number.
It’s a little risky/bold for a band that’s been around for three and a half decades only to play material from the most recent fifteen years of its career — meaning no hits like “21st Century (Digital Boy)” — but in the case of Bad Religion, it paid off, leaving a legacy of sweaty and satisfied fans in its wake.