Concert Review: Bad Religion / Speed of Light @ Empire Live, 10/25/2023
Bad Religion brought their “2023 ‘Merica Tour” to a sold-out Empire Live on Wednesday night. Formed in Los Angeles in 1980, Bad Religion has been recording and touring for over four decades. In all that time, they somehow never made it to Albany until Wednesday night, a fact that singer Greg Graffin made a point to mention several times during their ninety-minute set. I was informed by another fan that they did once play at an Eagles Club in Schenectady on their “No Control Tour” around 1990. Either way, Nippertown was long overdue for a visit from the punk legends from California. The venue was packed in tight all the way from the stage rail to the back bar and merch tables. As the temperature in the room rose, so did the anticipation from the crowd. There were old punks and young kids. I saw mothers and fathers with sons and daughters. I brought my own fifteen-year-old son. It was great to see the passing of the torch to a younger generation.
The band hit the stage promptly at 9 p.m. Their twenty-seven-song setlist covered their entire forty-three-year career. There was little banter in between songs. Bad Religion was in town to kick us in the teeth, not to tell stories. They have released seventeen studio albums and offered up tracks from fourteen of those records. They opened with “The Defense” from their 2002 release The Process of Belief. They dipped all the way back to 1990 for “Against the Grain” from the album of the same title. “Past is Dead” from 2013’s True North record had the crowd surging forward as mosh pits started within the crowd. It was refreshing to see crowd surfing is still a thing. Bodies were thrown into the air and moved to the front of the crowd. Empire Live staff would help them into the photo pit and then back into the crowd to do it all over again. The band seemed to feed off the crowd’s energy and vice versa.
By the time they got to “Infected” from 1994’s Stranger Than Fiction the room had become a mass of sweaty bodies, and it was glorious. Graffin and bass player Jay Bentley are the only founding members of the band left. Guitarist Brian Baker has been with Bad Religion since 1994, replacing founding guitarist Brett Gurewitz following the release of Stranger Than Fiction. Fellow guitarist Mike Dimtich joined in 2013. Drummer Jamie Miller rounds out the band, having joined in 2015. The dual guitar attack of Baker and Dimtich is something to behold. They traded off leads, each taking the spotlight.
What really sets Bad Religion apart to me is their use of three-part harmony. Graffin, Bentley, and Baker perfectly replicate the studio harmonies on stage. Three-part harmonies are not very common in punk music. The band has stated in the past that the only band that every member likes is The Beatles. It shows. It was particularly evident in their performance of “21st Century Digital Boy.” The main set was closed out with “Fuck Armageddon… This Is Hell” from their 1982 debut How Could Hell Be Any Worse? A two-song encore followed with “Generator” and “American Jesus.” As Graffin left the stage, Baker and Dimtich ripped into the riff from Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Bentley was the last man standing on stage, thanking the fans for forty-three years of dedication. He promised to return. Let’s hope they keep that promise.
As The Exploited once sang; punk is not dead. Not even close. Opening act Speed Of Light is proof positive that punk is alive and kicking. The trio are siblings from Santa Monica, California. Sixteen-year-old singer/bassist Riley reminded me of a young Joan Jett. Her delivery is full of snarl, angst and attitude. She can go from guttural growls to angelic high notes. Her brothers Tyler on drums and Cameron on guitar round out this fantastic up-and-coming band. Their sound is unique yet familiar. Their stage presence belies their youthful ages. Maybe it is in their DNA, but they seem to have a preternatural connection. Their playing is super tight, not at all what one might expect from a young punk band. Tyler’s playing is ferocious as he beats his drums like they owe him money. Cameron’s playing is precise and melodic. In true punk fashion, Riley dove from the stage into the crowd at the end of their set. Fans held her aloft until she made her way back to the stage. They are definitely one to watch.
Once again, Empire Live has brought an incredible show to the Capital District. Check out their concert calendar and stay up to date on upcoming shows. You don’t want to miss shows like this one.