Photos by Angie New Photography
Words by Matt New
Very rarely do you get to witness such a special occasion within the fabric of music history.
LA Punk rock icons Bad Religion and Social Distortion have paved the way for countless punk and hardcore bands to follow across many generations. Their return to Australian shores showcases a monumental first time playing together in almost 40 years. Hard to imagine for bands with such longevity; however, this was sure to be an incredible experience that awaited many Australian punk enthusiasts.
Even before the doors had opened, the queues flowed around the grounds of the Sydney Entertainment Quarter, with a myriad of fans spanning multiple generations. Solidifying how important the headlining acts are and how they are equally relevant to this day. The Hordern Pavilion is one of my personal favourite venues in our great city of Sydney, and I have lost count of how many amazing bands I have seen over the years here. The venue itself has a very intimate warmth to it, even though it has endless space to accommodate thousands of screaming fans.
Opening up the show was Brisbane-based Anty, who most people will know as the frontman of the Bennies. Infectiously groovy, Anty hit it home with their hip-hop-infused reggae, sprinkled with a flair of punk attitude. The three-piece played some fun and catchy tunes that got the crowd singing and moving in preparation for a much more intense pace to follow. A totally locked-in rhythm section accompanied by an incredibly hyperactive frontman, they were a pleasure to watch. I hope someday they expand their ensemble beyond the current instrumentation, as I feel the power of a live horn section and guitars will make them a more complete unit.
Social Distortion are a band who have long been regarded as the pioneers of the LA punk wave that exploded in the early 1980s and hit a mainstream audience in the 1990s. A band I personally never really got the opportunity to listen to when I was younger, so to see them perform would be a great crash course in my personal punk-rock education. Opening with So Far Away from their decorated self-titled 1990 album, the pace of the evening kicked into overdrive and the room felt electric. Like many of the best bands in the genre, their hallmark sound consisted of an incredibly tight rhythm section, perfectly synchronized vocal harmonies, and the ever-present cheeky sarcastic banter that adds to the spectacle between songs.
Mike Ness, the only remaining original member of the band was visibly enjoying the moment and made sure to connect with his adoring fans at any opportunity he could. From educating everyone in the room that the band was celebrating 45 years in the business, to trying to understand how Australians pronounce sick mate in his best attempt to sound like an Aussie. I was blown away at the professionalism this band has on stage, and it is clearly evident why so many are passionate for them.
They continued on an amazing set that included 14 powerful performances, including going back to their first album playing Mommy’s Little Monster, and throwing in a very heartfelt Chris Isaak cover of Wicked Game and an uplifting rendition of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. Very entertaining to say the least and look forward to when they grace our shores again in the near future, as we were hinted to by Mike Ness before leaving the stage for the evening.
Within every genre of music, you will always have two key artists who everyone cites as the pioneers at their inception. With the modern wave of LA punk, Bad Religion; along with Social Distortion you would say are the Beatles and Rolling Stones of this particular genre. Equally as experienced in the game, Bad Religion’s influential lyrics make them one of the most important punk bands ever.
Having experienced them live in New York in 2014 at the Summer Nationals tour, I was very excited to relive their blisteringly up-tempo set again. Opening up with a barrage of fast-paced tunes including Too Much to Ask, Fuck You and No Control, Bad Religion asserted themselves very quickly showcasing the dominant force they are. For a band that has served a loyal fan base for so long, their energy and enthusiasm was incredibly engaging, and you could not take your eyes off the stage for one moment.
Characteristically, many LA-based punk bands really like to engage in cheeky-witted banter on stage, pushing the boundaries between music and comedy. Bad Religion’s singer Greg Graffin and bassist Jay Bentley conversed with each other on a few brief occasions to have a laugh and connect with the crowd. But unlike a lot of their compatriots within the genre, they are a band that likes to get straight down to business and put the pedal to the metal; and in this instance, treated the crowd to a set that consisted of 23 songs spanning 12 separate albums across their career. This professionalism and passion are why they are highly regarded amongst their peers and many fans globally. The audience persistently chanted for American Jesus off their 1993 album Recipe for Hate and were eventually rewarded later in the evening, but first the Hordern Pavilion echoed the amazing riffs and intricate three-part vocal melodies of other classic tracks like Generator, Social Suicide and Sorrow. The musicianship of the rhythm section really challenges the notion of what punk rock artists are perceived for, as every single member showed incredible ability with their particular instrument.
From every last chord passage, guitar solo, drum solo and vocal harmony, Bad Religion are one talented outfit that have only proceeded to refine and grow throughout the course of a 40-plus-year career at the top. Overall, Bad Religion were the stars of the show, and did not put one foot wrong, but to bear witness to a very historic event on home soil made many thousands of Sydney Punk fans leave fulfilled by an amazing education in live punk rock music.