Live Concert Photography: Bad Religion with The Explosion at Webster Hall 8/2/19
Currently comprised of of founding members Greg Graffin, Brett Gurewitz and Jay Bentley, along with Brian Baker, Mike Dimkich and Jamie Miller, the Los Angeles-based punk act Bad Religion can trace its origins back to their formation in 1980 by its founding trio and Jay Ziskrout completing the band’s initial lineup. Their first public performance was playing a handful of shows at a warehouse opening for Social Distortion — but their first official live shoe was at Joey Kills Bar in Burbank.
In 1981, the members of Bad Religion released their self-titled EP on the then-newly formed punk rock label Epitaph Records, which was and continues to be managed and owned by the band’s Brett Gurewitz. They also began working on How Could Hell Be Any Worse? And during the recording sessions for the album, the band went through the first of a number of lineup changes with Ziskrout quitting the band and being replaced by Peter Finestone. Released the following year, How Could Hell Be Any Worse? was distributed by the band under the Epitaph label and sold about 12,000 copies.,
1983 saw the release of Into the Unknown, an album that found Bad Religion’s sound going into a radical new direction — keyboard-driven, progressive hard rock with a slightly slower place. Almost all of the albums the band produced were sold out of the warehouse they were housed in without the band’s knowledge. And as a result, the album went out of print. That incident, as well as the bandmembers’ increasingly divergent personal live, led to the band’s first breakup shortly after the album’s release.
Soon after the band’s first breakup, Greg Graffin reunited the band with Circle Jerks’ Greg Hetson replacing Gurewitz, who had gone into rehab for drug addiction. And with yet another lineup change, the band returned to a more rock-leaning version of their sound with the release of the Back to the Known EP. However, the band broke up again by the middle of 1985.
The following year, Bad Religion began to slowly reunite. Graffin called Bentley up and asked him to return. Initially, Bentley’s response was tentative but after being assured that the setlist would consist of material off How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, he agreed to return for a show — but he wound up having so much fun that he decided to stay on. Gurewitz had finished rehab and was convinced to return. Pete Finestone returned on drums with Greg Hetson playing second guitar. And as a quintet, the band wrote and recorded their third album, 1988’s Suffer, which was released to critical praise from Trust, Maximum Rocknroll and Flipside, all of which named the album their Best Album of the Year that year. While the band was touring to support Suffer, the members of Bad Religion began writing new material, which would eventually comprised 1989’s No Control, an album that sold more than 80,000 copies, making it one of their best-selling albums at the time.
1990’s Against the Grain found the band continuing with a familiar hardcore punk sound, and the album, which featured “21st Century (Digital Boy)” sold over 100,000. “21st Century (Digital Boy)” has long been considered one of the band’s best-known songs in their catalog; in fact, they’ve played the song at almost every live show — and unsurprisingly, the song is a crowd favorite.
1991 saw further lineup changes. Pete Finestone left Bad Religion to focus on his other band The Fisherman, which had signed with a major label. Bobby Schayer joined the band as his placement. That year, the members of the band went to Westbeach Recorders to work on their sixth album, 1992’s Generator. Interestingly, the album found the band recording live in the studio, as Gurewitz moved the studio to larger premises. The larger premises inspired the band to change things up and to deliberately try something different in terms of songwriting and approach.
The band also released the compilation album 80-85 in 1991. Essentially. it was a repacking of some of their earliest material, including How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, the self-titled EP and Back to the Known and the three songs they contributed to the Public Service EP. The compilation has long been out of print and was replaced in 2004 by a re-issued version of How Could Hell Be Any Worse? with the same track listings.
As a result of the alt rock, grunge rock and punk rock boom of the early 1990s, Bad Religion signed to Atlantic Records, who released 1993’s Recipe for Hate. And although the album was released to mixed reviews, the album was the first to achieve mainstream success for the band, as it debuted at #14 on Billboard‘s Heatseekers chart with “American Jesus” and “Struck a Nerve” becoming radio hits.
They quickly followed up with 1994’s critically applauded and commercially successful Stranger Than Fiction, an album that wound up peaking at #87 on the Billboard 200 — the band’s first and was awarded Gold certification in 1998 for selling half a million copies, as a result of the success of smash hits “Stranger Than Fiction,” “Infected” and a re-recording of “21st Century (Digital Boy).” Before the release of Stranger Than Fiction, Gurewitz left the band, officially citing the increasing amount of time needed to run Epitaph as The Offspring, who had just released Smash to unexpected success and acclaimed quickly became one of the biggest bands of the early and mid-1990s. Gurewitz was replaced by Brian Baker, a former member of Minor Threat, Dag Nasty and Junkyard, making the band’s Greg Graffin the band’s primary songwriter.
Bad Religion continued touring and recording without Gurewitz, eventually releasing three more albums for Atlantic, including 1996’s Ric Ocasek-produced The Gray Race, which featured the minor US radio hit “A Walk” and “Punk Rock Song,” which was released as a single in Europe. 1998’s Alex Perilalas, Ronnie Kimball and Bad Religion co-produced No Substance was released to mixed reviews from fans and critics — but the band went on a year-long tour to support it.
In 1999 Gurewitz reunited with Graffin to cowrite “Believe It,” which would appear on 2000’s Todd Rundgren-produced The New America, the last album the band recorded and released for Atlantic Records. The album marks the last album with Bobby Schayer, who left the band following a serious shoulder injury. And it’s the only album in the band’s catalog solely written by Graffin — with the exception of “Believe It.” Suicidal Tendencies‘ Brooks Wackerman replaced Schayer.
The Los Angeles-based punk band left Atlantic Records in 2001 and returned to their early label home Epitaph Records. Gurewtiz wound up returning to the band for the writing and recording of 2002’s The Process of Belief, an effort that was generally regarded as a return to early form for the band. 2004’s The Empire Strikes First, which was inspired by the Iraq War and President George W. Bush’s second term continued the band’s return to form.
2007’s New Maps of Hell was a commercial success as the result of three radio hits — “Honest Goodbye,” “Heroes and Martyrs” and “New Dark Ages.” The album landed at #35 on the Billboard 200, making it band’s highest charting album at the time.
2010 saw the band commemorating their 30th anniversary with a tour of Southern California and Nevada House of Blues locations that found them playing 30 shows in 30 nights with a 30 song set. They released a a live album, 30 Years Live, which was initially released a free download for fans, who had signed up on the band’s ailing list. And while it featured songs recorded during their House of Blues tour, it also featured new songs from their 15th album — before it was officially released. They released their 15th album The Dissent of Man later that year, and the album debuted at #35 on the Billboard 200 and #6 on the Billboard Independent Charts. That year also saw a limited release vinyl box set of all their albums, including 1983’s Into the Unknown, which had been out of print for over 25 years.
Bad Religion released their 16th album, 2013’s True North, a critically well-received album that reached #18 on the Billboard 200, the band’s first ever Top 20 album. The album features new live staple “Fuck You.” That year, the band went through yet another lineup change with Greg Hetson leaving the band due to personal issues. Mike Dimkich replaced Hetson was announced as a permanent member of the band the following year.
Between July 2014 to September 2013, Bad Religion went on the Summer Nationals Tour with Pennywise and their former labelmates The Offspring. The Vandals, Stiff Little Fingers and Naked Raygun opened on selected dates. 2015 saw some more lineup changes. Brooks Wackerman left the band, eventually joining Avenged Sevenfold. Wackerman was replaced by . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead‘s, Souls at Zero’s and Snot’s Jamie Miller.
Bad Religion released their 17th album Age of Unreason earlier this year, and the band has been touring to support it. The tour included two New York area dates — an August 2, 2019 stop at Webster Hall and an August 3, 2019 stop at Brooklyn Steel. Both nights featured the Boston-based punk act The Explosion as the opener. I happened to be at the Webster Hall show — and it was my first time at the renovated Webster Hall. Check out photos from the show below.
Currently comprised of founding members Matt Hock, Damien Genuardi and David Walsh along with Andrew Black and Chris Gonzalez, the Boston-based punk act The Explosion can trace their origins to when its founding trio of Hock, Genuardi and Walsh all met through Rama Maya, the owner of Big Wheel Recreation Records. They started the band in the fall of 1998 with Sam Cave and Dan Colby eventually joining the band to complete its first lineup.
The members of The Explosion pressed 250 copies of a demo before going on tour with Kid Dynamite. A roadie handed the demo to Jade Tree Records, who signed the band and released a self-titled EP containing the demo tracks in 2000. Their full-length debut Flash Flash Flash was also released in 2000 to critical acclaim — Spin Magazine named the album one fo the best 20 albums of 2000 and the publication latter named them one of the Top 10 punk acts of 2001. They also came in second for best local punk act in the Boston Phoenix. The band eventually wound up touring the States and the European Union with Sick of it All, AFI, The Nerve Agents, Avail, Leatherface, US Bombs, Alkaline Trio, The Queers, Social Distortion, Tiger Army, The International Noise Conspiracy, Rocket From The Crypt and Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros — and they were included on 2001’s and 2005’s Warped Tours. Adding to a growing profile, Flash Flash Flash single “Points West” was featured in the PC version of the game True Crime: Streets of LA.
However, as they started to attain some success, the band faced a major problem: Genuardi’s previous band, the straight-edge hardcore band In My Eyes had signed to Revelation Records. At the time, Revelation Records threatened to sue Genuardi, with the belief that The Explosion’s success with Jade Tree Records should belong to them. The members of The Explosion settled the dispute by writing and recording an EP for Revelation Records that they sarcastically titled Steal This.
2003 saw the release of the Sick of Modern Art EP through their own label Tarantulas Records. Shortly after the release of the Sick of Modern Art EP, seven major labels became involved in a tense, bidding war to sign the band. Virgin Records eventually signed the band and distributed the EP. 2004’s Black Tape was recorded at Cider Mountain Recorders with C. Phillips and J. Hehn — and several albums were featured on several video games, including Tony Hawk’s Underground 1 & 2, Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition and NFL Street 2.
Their second Virgin Records effort and third overall was recorded and shelved until the album, which was eventually titled Bury Me Standing was released through Paper + Plastick; however, the album was shelved again. In 2011, Chunksaah Records, which is run by the band’s friends The Bouncing Souls announced they’d release the album the following year. The band played a one-off show with The Bouncing Souls as part of the New Jersey band’s fifth annual Home For The Holidays shows.
Over the past few years, the band has broken up, reunited, broken up and reunited again with their most recent reunion being an opener for Bad Religion.