• Bad Religion - Toronto, Ontario - March 31, 2013

    "It's freezing out here, bring me a hot chocolate!"
    "Do you want marshmallows in it?"

    As nerdy as it is, that was my Twitter interaction with Bad Religion bassist Jay Bentley, self-proclaimed social media whore, before tonight's show. It seems like an eternity has passed since the first time I heard Bad Religion; they've been an integral part of my life for so long, I have only vague memories of them not being part of my musical lexicon. In reality, however, it was only in 1992 that I first heard of them, courtesy of my friend Jeremy and a third or fourth generation cassette copy of the album GENERATOR. Bad Religion had already been around for about 12 years at this point, having released the incredibly influential punk albums HOW COULD HELL BE ANY WORSE?, SUFFER, NO CONTROL, and AGAINST THE GRAIN, which would soon become my favourite album by the group.

    Working backwards from GENERATOR, I familiarized myself with all of their songs intimately, and they quickly became my favourite band. I played them for everyone, determined to spread the word of this intellectual punk band, but most didn't share my enthusiasm. When their next album, RECIPE FOR HATE dropped, I made sure that I was in the record store on release day, but unfortunately, the more progressive style of RECIPE failed to move me like GENERATOR did. Over the next few years, I developed a...not quite Love/Hate relationship, but more of a Hit/Miss scenario...for every amazing album they put out, there seemed to be a lackluster followup. By the time the incredibly mediocre NEW AMERICA was released, I had pretty much decided that it was over for Bad Religion and I. Although I loved the next album, 2002's PROCESS OF BELIEF, which marked the return of co-founder Brett Gurewitz to the fold and the addition of former Suicidal Tendencies drummer Brooks Wackerman, the followup of THE EMPIRE STRIKES FIRST left me cold. 2007's NEW MAPS OF HELL was a fine return to form, but 2010's DISSENT OF MAN was incredibly pedestrian, and remains their only album that I do not own.

    Flashing forward to 2013, over 20 years since I had first discovered Bad Religion, and the band released TRUE NORTH...and I was blown away all over again. With a very few minor flaws, TRUE NORTH was the return to form I had been waiting for all of these years, and I dug in like a crazed teenaged punk rock fan. And so, it was with a great deal of excitement that I purchased tickets to see Bad Religion live at the Kool Haus in Toronto...the same venue that I had first seen them on the STRANGER THAN FICTION tour back in 1994...and witnessed history repeating itself. Gone, however, was the band that I saw all of those years ago, with their insecurities concerning the recent departure of Brett Gurewitz from the touring roster, and in its place, a punk rock powerhouse with a wealth of legendary material to draw from.

    Hitting the stage after the very forgettable Polar Bear Club and the much better opening act The Bronx, the group launched into The Past Is Dead from TRUE NORTH , and then proceeded to rip through over 90 minutes of songs from over 10 albums, including crowd favourites like Against the Grain, We're Only Gonna Die, I Want To Conquer The World, and Sanity. Cracking a joke for the holiday, singer Greg Graffin introduced "a religious song; Come Join Us", which found the close-to-capacity crowd singing along loudly. There was very little to complain about; the band was in top form, with Wackerman and bassist Jay Bentley (one of the most likeable guys ever) laying down a serious groove for Brian Baker and Circle Jerks alumni Greg Hetson's guitars, and Greg Graffin's powerful lyrics punctuated over top of the music. The band kept the crowd moving, surfing, slamming, and shouting along for the entire set, coming back for an "official" encore, which included Fuck Armageddon, This is Hell, and Infected. Though they relied somewhat heavily on their new material, which made up about a quarter of their setlist, the band managed to throw in some slightly unexpected song choices (Beyond Electric Dreams) while staying far from their weaker material, with nary a song from No Substance, The New America, or Dissent of Man to be found.

    When the last notes had finished ringing out, and the final beer cans hit the floor as the crowd moved towards the parking lot, I couldn't help but think that if the rumours are true...if this is Bad Religion's last tour before they retire...they couldn't have gone out on a much better note. TRUE NORTH is practically perfect in every way, and the band, despite being older than some of the parents in the crowd, can still officiate over an audience more skillfully than bands half of their age.

    Energy. Excitement. Volume. Presence. A commitment to fantastic songwriting. Bad Religion still brings it like they did all of those years ago. It'll be hard to be a music fan when they're gone; but while they were here, they did things most bands will never touch...and the stellar accomplishment of TRUE NORTH is one that I and every other Bad Religion fan share. If you get the chance to see them on this tour, do so. You will not regret it.