“Make Punk Great Again”: Bad Religion’s Vox Populi Tour

Featured image via MythicSeabass

As the Fillmore filled with fans eagerly awaiting Bad Religion’s Vox Populi Tour, a few people around me debated whether or not Bad Religion was the last “real” punk band left. While this discussion could easily go back and forth for a couple days (perhaps years), there’s certainly enough evidence to back that stance up. They’re one of the last major acts from the 70’s SoCal movement still standing, and have stayed true to the values of that particular scene throughout their 36-year career. It’s easy for a legacy act like Bad Religion to fall into the traps of irrelevancy or self-parody, but last Wednesday’s show proved that Bad Religion has remained at the top simply by being themselves.

Philly native Dave Hause kicked off the night with a mostly-acoustic set, a welcome choice considering the rest of the night would be devoted to fast, raucous punk. Occasionally accompanied by his brother Tim on electric guitar and keyboards, Hause put on a set of acoustic rock that was as energetic and impactful as the bands that followed him. Hause was also able to handle crowd banter like a pro, specifically when a few (possibly inebriated, or just overly excited) members of the audience began shouting at him mid-song about how they saw him open for Frank Turner a few weeks earlier (“I’m glad you liked it, but I have a song to finish”, Hause politely replied). Towards the end of his set, Hause and his brother were joined by Bad Religion’s bassist Jay Bentley and Against Me!’s drummer Atom Willard for a full band finale, filling out the punk edge of Hause’s songs.

Against Me! followed as Vox Populi’s co-headliner, offering an all-too-short 45-minute set. This tour marks the first time Bad Religion and Against Me! have teamed up since a string of shows fell through back in 2013, but the pairing was well worth the wait. Against Me! is one of the current mainstream acts to put a focus on sociopolitical issues at the same level Bad Religion does, so it was interesting to compare similarities between the two bands’ commentaries despite a generational gap and differing life experiences. With a career-spanning setlist featuring songs from their debut album Reinventing Axl Rose all the way to their latest release, September’s Shape Shift With Me, Against Me! properly warmed up the crowd (specifically the mosh pit) with a high-octane performance of their most well-known songs.

When Bad Religion finally took the stage, the political implications of the Vox Populi tour became blatantly obvious. With the stage covered in a backdrop of an eagle with the American flag in it’s talons, Bad Religion emerged to the sounds of famed speeches by presidents and political figures that all Americans are supposed to know (Franklin Roosevelt’s “Fear itself” quote and John F. Kennedy’s impassioned “Ask not what your country can do for you…” were two of the most notable sound bytes). Bentley came out sporting an American flag dress shirt, while guitarist Mike Dimkich came out with a much less subtle t-shirt that read “DRUMPF IS A PIG”. Frontman Greg Graffin was quick to acknowledge that “There’s no real reason for [Bad Religion] to be on tour right now other than the upcoming election” as the band churned through a thirty song(!) setlist. Though nearly impossible to fit a equitable sampling of tracks from Bad Religion’s sixteen albums and numerous EPs and rarities, the set had at least one song from almost every Bad Religion album represented, and put a focus on fan favorites like Suffer, No Control, and Against the Grain.

For Bad Religion, the key has been consistency. Even with their various ebbs and flows in popularity and mainstream success, Bad Religion never strayed too far from rooms like The Fillmore, filled with a bunch of punks who find comfort moshing along to Bad Religion’s message. Performance-wise, the band is as sharp as they’ve ever been, especially Dimkich, who plays with a preciseness that has arguably been lost on the latest generation of punk bands. Even the songs have held up throughout a nearly four decade career; cuts like “American Jesus” and the 22-year old “21st Century (Digital Boy)” have held a remarkable truth to them long after they were first written, to the point where it’s a bit unsettling. Election season or not, Bad Religion continues to prove that they are a voice that still needs to be heard.

Is Bad Religion the last “real” punk band? Continue the debate in the comment section below! 

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