Bad Religion slams through town

Slam dancers caromed and smashed across the floor. A fist fight broke out near the left corner of the stage. Another guy dove off the balcony onto the heads of the crowd below.

All inspired by Bad Religion, a 30-year-old hardcore band whose lead vocalist/co-founder Greg Graffin, who stalked the stage dressed in a a black polo shirt, black trousers and what appeared to be soft brown leather shoes.

“The spirit of resistance, you gotta hold your grip,” Graffin snarled, the sweat already dripping down his vast, balding forehead. “Lest the state of your resolve/Makes you quickly devolve/Into a fundamentalist, yeah!”

The song, “The Resist Stance,” comes from Bad Religion’s 15th and most recent album, “The Dissent of Man.” And if it seems to be a stretch coming from a 45-year-old entertainment entrepreneur, it’s even less expected from a man whose quarter-century of academic study has earned him a PhD (zoology) and a day job at U.C.L.A., where he lectures on evolution and the ongoing conflict between science and faith.

“A pall on truth and reason/It feels like hunting season!” Now Graffin is belting out “The New Dark Ages,” his strong voice in perfect synch with the slam-bang of his Bad Religion bandmates, whose 30 years of experience (three out of the four original members performed on Monday) have knit them into a tight, powerful unit as capable of dense vocal harmonies as they are pile-driving rock ‘n’ roll. They kept it up for 90 minutes, playing a wide array of favorites and new songs that both kept the sell-out crowd in battle mode while also revealing the depth and clarity of the group’s philosophy: A withering contempt for social structures of all sorts.

“The whole world is insane,” Graffin hollered in “Los Angeles is Burning.” “How could hell be any worse?”

The songs also revealed the philosophical bonds between Graffin’s punk rock songs and his academic pursuits as a student and interpreter of the fundamentals of existence and — to his mind — the strict religious dogmas intended not to inspire but to shut down genuine thought.

All of which Graffin explores in “Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science and Bad Religion in a World Without God,” which weaves Graffin’s personal recollections with the results of his studies in evolutionary biology.

“I’ve always had a problem with authority,” he announces at the start of the book (from which Graffin will read at a presentation at the Bagdad Theater on SE Hawthorne Blvd. on Tuesday night at 6 pm). Far more trusting of direct experience and scientific proof, Graffin goes at his subject with a slam-dancer’s wild enthusiasm — launching himself at his topic, colliding against it and using the resulting tumult as an energy source to gain a better perspective.

And so Graffin’s increasingly middle-aged appearance (he looks a bit like a thinner, less morally encumbered Tony Soprano) did nothing to diminish the visceral/intellectual crunch of Bad Religion’s performance. For if he got into music as a teenager with an eye toward smashing the governing paradigm of ’70s pop music, he’s still at it.

Change is both good and, according to Darwin’s own evolutionary theory, inevitable. Graffin was particularly delighted to note the changes in the audience: “Look at all the lady slam-dancers!” he said, between songs.

Did Graffin see the number of old-time fans standing alongside their kids? One 12-year-old wore a weathered Bad Religion t-shirt and a pair of noise-dampening headphones. And as the security guards muscled a weathered slam-dancer down the stairs behind him, the kid bopped to the music with shining eyes. He had a lifetime of parardigms in front of him, all of them poised for some good, evolutionary destruction.

Speak Your Mind