Review by Pepus
Bad Religion came to the Pageant in St. Louis on April 15. I'm ambivalent about the ongoing careers of punk performers in their '40s, but what convinced me to attend this show was Greg Hetson's dazzlingly manic guitar playing at a Circle Jerks concert last fall. During this concert, Hetson was actually in the audience during the first two acts, walking unrecognized through groups of teenagers decked out in Bad Religion gear. Frontmen get all the attention.
Opening the show were the Unmutuals (give yourself five points if you caught the reference to Patrick McGoohan's Prisoner TV series), perhaps the best St. Louis punk band today. The Unmutuals turn out a melodic but sharp-edged sound reminiscent of early OC hardcore. Their biggest crowd-pleaser, "Fuck Guitar Center," is infectious despite its throwaway lyrics. The band slowed down only long enough to play a nice rendition of "Chinese Rock" in tribute to Joey Ramone on the anniversary of his death. After the concert, I had some Unmutuals' songs bouncing around in my head along with Bad Religion's and that's quite an accomplishment for an opening act.
Sparta made a poor choice for second act. The Texas band offered some slow, flat tunes for about half of their set before warming up to some more energetic stuff. Being bookended by the other two bands didn't work to Sparta's advantage, and the group's emo-influenced sound never won over the crowd.
When Bad Religion came out, they mostly played their later material, despite Greg Graffin's old-school look in Rottenesque plaid pants. The young audience was most enthusiastic about "21st Century (Digital Boy)," and the band also played "Supersonic," perhaps the most popular song from its latest album. Noting that President Bush was coming to town the next day, the group dedicated its song against the first Gulf War ("Heaven Is Falling") to both King Georges. Though I'm lukewarm toward a number of BR's '90s songs, the group's inspired performance prevented the set from having any weak moments.
Hetson was a standout again, somehow keeping his riffs under control while throwing himself around the stage, and Graffin's voice may even be more powerful than it was in 1980. "Recipe for Hate" and "American Jesus" - two songs emblematic of BR's complex, intensely political lyrics - were high points of the show. Those songs brought out the best in the band and coaxed a few more decibels still from Graffin's straining voice box, which peaked at the line "we've got the American Jesus / he helped build the president's estate." The group inexplicably failed to play "White Trash, 2nd Generation," but got a good reception from older (i.e. 30-something) fans in particular with "We're Only Gonna Die" and "Fuck Armageddon, This Is Hell."
The show was a big event for punk fans in St. Louis, a city often passed over in favor of Chicago by touring bands, especially So-Cal ones. It also offered a nice break from lamenting the dearth of interesting political punk.
* * *
Originally from Orange County, Pepus now lives in the midwest, where he is a freelance writer.