Bad Religion Social Distortion
Greg Graffin of Bad Religion | Credit: Medios y Media/Getty Images

Social Distortion, Bad Religion Review – Punk Rock Nostalgia and Enduring Friendship

Social Distortion and Bad Religion played at Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena on Sunday, 19th February. Brenton Harris reviews.

Performing before an ageing but appreciative crowd, Social Distortion and Bad Religion – two veteran acts of California’s 1980s hardcore punk scene – lived up to their esteemed reputations, delivering hour-long sets that each contained some of the finest punk rock songs ever written.

Just as they did on their first-ever show 43 years ago, Bad Religion took the stage before Social Distortion, firing up the crowd with the one-two punch of ‘Too Much To Ask’ from 1992’s Generator and ‘American Jesus’ from 1993’s Recipe For Hate.

Lead vocalist Greg Graffin may look more like the evolutionary biology professor he is than the punk front person he started out as, but he exerted understated power through his stage presence and vocal delivery.

Bad Religion – ‘American Jesus’

Cramming 20 songs into an hour left Graffin very little room for banter. So, aside from some anecdotes about the two headliners’ shared history, and a hilarious back-and-forth between bass player Jay Bentley and a loutish member of the front row, Bad Religion let the music do the talking, rollicking through 40 years of hits.

All the elements that made Bad Religion punk royalty were on display, from Brian Baker’s helter-skelter guitars and Bentley’s frenzied bass work to Graffin’s rapid-fire melodic delivery and the soaring three-part vocal harmonies.

Catalogue favourite such as ‘Do What You Want’, ‘Fuck Armageddon…This Is Hell’, ‘No Control’ and ‘Come Join Us’ were met with the anticipated enthusiasm, but the positive response for newer cuts ‘Fuck You’ and ‘Germs Of Perfection’ proved the diehards haven’t gone off Bad Religion even as the band’s entered its fifth decade.

The Melbourne crowd gave it everything they had as the band sprinted to the finish line with a sequence of punk classics including ‘Generator’, ‘You’, ‘Suffer’ and a scintillating ‘I Want To Conquer The World’. Ending with ‘21st Century Digital Boy’, which had the arena in full voice, Bad Religion threw down the gauntlet to their fellow punk rockers, and the room waited to see if Social Distortion were up for the challenge.

Social Distortion – ‘So Far Away’

The answer, it turns out, was both yes and no. Playing in Melbourne for the first time since Soundwave 2011, Social Distortion opened with inspired renditions of ‘So Far Away’ from 1990’s Social Distortion and ‘Bad Luck’ from 1992’s Somewhere Between Heaven & Hell. They had the crowd on-side early, with several folks fighting back tears, while Mike Ness’ conversational banter was lapped up by the adoring audience.

Songs like ‘Reach For The Sky’ and ‘I Wasn’t Born to Follow’ from 2004’s Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll also went over well, but there was a conspicuous drop-off in enthusiasm for the band’s newer songs compared those from their 80s and 90s heyday.

‘Mommy’s Little Monster’ and ‘Sick Boy’ raised the temperature, inspiring major sing-alongs, while the instrumentalists got a chance to show off during a surprise cover of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’, which suited Social D’s brand of cowboy-punk perfectly.

Whether it was due to exhaustion or unfamiliarity, the crowd became reserved during the middle part of the set, with Ness noting that it felt pretty quiet for a punk rock show. In lesser hands, this could’ve derailed the evening, but Ness’ joy at calling Margaret Court a naughty c-word woke everyone up just in time to lose themselves to the anthemic ‘Ball & Chain’.

The main set ended with ‘Drag Me Down’, the anti-racist messaging and frantic nature of which reactivated the pit. Social Distortion returned for a three-song encore that included  ‘Story Of My Life’ and Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire’, ensuring everyone walked out of the room knowing they’d just been in the presence of punk rock greatness.

Further Reading

Bad Religion’s Brian Baker: “I Didn’t Know If I Was Ever Going to Be on a Stage Again”

Social Distortion & Bad Religion Announce Australian Co-Headline Tour

Sunnyboys Review – Power Pop Veterans Provide Bittersweet Farewell

Must Read