‘Tis a dreary evening in Ye-Olde Sydney town this Wednesday the 29th of February and although this date only comes around once every four years, the chance to see Strung Out and Bad Religion on the same bill may only come around once in a lifetime. With this in mind, punters have come out in droves to brave the bad weather and see these two iconic institutions of punk rock.
For those who have never been to The Hi-Fi in Sydney, the venue is intimate with very few places to hide. Once you’ve entered through the doors, you’re immediately centre stage with bars to the left and right and a merch table tucked away in a corner. Tonight the best T-shirt on offer depicts Jesus riding an atomic bomb; no guesses for which band created that one.
The Hi-Fi is cramped with eager punters as Street Dogs take to the stage. Fronted by Mike McColgan, the original singer of Dropkick Murphys, the Boston band brings plenty of Irish spirit to the proceedings. Sporting a classic kangol, McColgan gives the crowd a Boston Baptism (splashing beer on the crowd while making the sign of the cross), sings Olay, Olay, Olay, Olay and leads the audience in the classic Ramones punk chant Hey Ho – Let’s Go!
Up next are Strung Out, who begin their set behind fan favourites Ultimate Devotion and Everyday. Within moments a circle-pit opens up and bodies start colliding. Vocalist Jason Cruz informs the Strung Out faithful that for the next 30 minutes they’re in the church of Strung Out before asking his disciples “Do you believe?” – creating a stylish segue into Reason to Believe.
Cruz has a magnetic intensity that blends authentically with the force of Stung Out’s music. When one fan becomes somewhat awe struck by the lead singer’s onstage presence, Cruz instructs them, “Don’t just stare at me; dance!”
Unfortunately, a supporting role means a shorter set, but Strung Out still manage to cram in some of their classic tunes such as Too Close to See, Firecracker and Bring Out Your Dead, while also playing newer material like Blueprint of the Fall and Nation of Thieves.
Ending their set with a slightly punchier version of Matchbook, Strung Out plays every song as though for the first time, simultaneously displaying a reckless abandon and tight musicianship. The crowd chants in unison for one more song, but they’ll have to make do with next in show.
Of course, waiting for Bad Religion is hardly settling and when the punk rock veterans finally appear it’s a whole new level of crowd control. Greg Graffin is a master of his craft, expending little energy on physicality when engaging the crowd. Instead of thrashing around or screaming his lungs out, Graffin communicates in a more refined fashion during songs. It’s almost as if Graffin is having a conversation with you as opposed to singing at you, asking the crowd what they think rather than just hammering home a premeditated agenda.
As for the music itself, Bad Religion provides a set that spans the decades, though is mainly rooted in the 90s. Modern Man, Punk Rock Song and Generator all sound as fresh as more modern tracks Before You Die, Can’t Stop It and The Resist Stance.
Graffin and bassist Jay Bentley sporadically entertain the crowd with some light-hearted banter. The two original members joke of one day recording a platinum record so they can fly around the world like Offspring. Graffin also surprises all the ‘smarty pants’ that looked up the setlist online by adding God’s Love from 2004 record The Empire Strikes First.
Closing their main set on the ‘sing-along song of the night’ Sorrow, Bad Religion only makes the crowd wait 2 minutes before reappearing for an encore that concludes with 21st Century Digital Boy and American Jesus.
Polished, charismatic and perhaps more relevant than ever, Bad Religion prove that after 30 plus years, they’re not getting older, only better…