Monday, 12 November 2007

Bad Religon and the Punk Product

In an attempt to move this blog away from just being about music and concerts, I'm trying now to add a bit of social insight as a means of somehow legitimising this blog as more than "I saw xxxxxxx". As with my last entry about the new Saul Williams CD turning into a rant against the music industry, I want to use this gig review to express the whole irony of the Punk subculture. But first, the music...

1. Bad Religion / Strung Out / Mid Youth Crisis @ Hordern 07/11/2007
After a 3.5 hour bus-ride from Canberra and a frantic search for accommodation, I made my way through Surrey Hills to the venue at Moore Park. Settled at the Fox and Lion beforehand for a few pre-gig drinks, and after accidentally being served Tooheys New instead of Extra Dry, I've resolved never to drink New again. Terrible terrible stuff. Made my way to the gig and picked up some reasonably priced merch ($35 a shirt) before heading in just in time to see Mid Youth Crisis.

One thing I love about punk music is the do-it-yourself attitude. No artwork, no special effects, and the standard lighting at the venue seemed out of place. Immediately as this band started they impressed me. Very intense, yet still had a strong focus on songwriting. As they started the 2nd track, I was worried that they would be just another punk band who found a sound then stuck to it, but no MYC were very diverse in their song structure and tone while staying true to their punk roots. There seemed to be a great enthusiasm for the 3rd billed band, and as the crowd slowly swelled, no booing heard or chants for them to get off the stage. 30 minutes seemed like a good set time, no feelings of being sold short, and apart from the vocalists slight self-gratification on-stage, a pleasure to watch.

Strung Out have released the most impressive punk album of the year to date, its refreshing to hear Punk bands that do something different with the genre. The set was a mix of new and old, and again it was well received. The circle pit expanded as people rushed while Blackhawks Over Los Angeles was played. Like MYC, the sound during the first few songs was very average. Thankfully it did improve and the last 30 minutes of their 40 minute slot sounded quite great. I can see why they have a great reputation as a live act. It was a good mix of new and old tracks, made me want to explore their back catalogue. The highlight of the set was The Calling, it sounded even better live than on CD. A 40 minute set seemed about right for them, and again they were very much a crowd pleaser, and there were quite a lot of patrons wearing their merch. All in all, I had my fun jumping around to the opening acts, so I made my way to the mixing desk so Bad Religion would sound as good as possible - The Hordern isn't the best venue in Sydney for sound, I figure being as close to the mixing desk as possible is the best way to go.

Bad Religion were absolutely fantastic live, an unforgettable punk experience. It would certainly be up there with the best performances I've seen ever, let alone out of punk bands. Even without the demigod Brett Gurewitz playing, they still put on one amazing punk show. Starting with Fuck Armageddon... This Is Hell began the almost seamless 90 minute tirade of raw punk energy. The set was a good mix of new and old, though the lack of material from The Empire Strikes First made me disappointed there wasn't a tour to support the album. The highlights from the set for me included Social Suicide, Los Angeles Is Burning, New Dark Ages, 21st Century Digital Boy and American Jesus - that seemed to be a crowd favourite as a whole.

The production was slightly more than most punk acts I've seen, though that isn't to say much. Other than the venue lighting, there was one huge piece of artwork hanging up behind them. It looked cool, especially with some of the lighting used. But like other punk acts, they used the traditional method of keeping the crowd entertained... by interacting with them. Crowd interaction is something that really has been lost in recent years by bands, its good to see one genre where talking to the crowd, telling jokes and actually trying to be entertaining isn't lost. There are a couple of bands in the metal community who do this as well, like Opeth for example, but it is a lost art nevertheless and after watching an alternative rock / punk / metal festival earlier this year (Come Together) with bands that just stood still and played there songs, it sang volumes about how little emphasis the recording age has put on performance. It's just lucky that Punk Rock has nowhere near the aggression and intensity on an overly produced CD than they do playing live. Each instrument was striving to dominate the sound yet never threatening the cohesion and tightness that the band has. I wasn't impressed with New Maps Of Hell when it came out, but live the tracks just come to life.

Overall a great show, and it will stay in my memory for a long time to come as one of the best concerts I've ever been to. It was my last major act of the year (barring a last minute dash to see Clutch in December) and it was good to finish on such a high. Bad Religion have been a band I've been wanting to see live for a year, so all I need now is a new Pennywise tour to round out the teenage punk in me.

2. The Punk Product
Okay, I know the whole "punk" movement is already shrouded in irony, but surely at one stage it must have meant something. Back in the late 70s where brightly colouring your Mohawk hair while wearing clothes that were a big "FUCK YOU" to the establishment seemed to actually mean something. You were an eyesore, the opposite of what was acceptable, you were a big zit on the arse of high society and you got in peoples faces. What happened?!? It seems as though some people haven't evolved from that statement and are hoping that people will still get offended by a big middle finger on a denim jacket...

We are a desensitised culture, what was shocking yesterday is meh today. Forget this whole PC culture we keep on being told we live in, what surprises and shocks us is very little anymore. Partly this is thanks to the media, partly the Internet, partly that we learn to tolerate what we get used to so outrageous social trends lose their shock value really quickly. Dressing up like Vivian from The Young Ones is now a punk cliché. The clothing has stayed, but the attitude has gone, now the clothes are a mark of identity with the punk culture rather than a rebellion against society.

It seems as though the one thing that keeps the punk movement together is that air of rebellion. Even if that rebellion is a myth, there is a certain attraction especially to teenagers looking towards an outlet with which to vent their frustration. Personally I think for the most part the movement is quite harmless compared to other subcultures like emo or goth, and punk is really developing a social conscience, and I find that amazing how conservatives will do what they can to marginalise the message of punk music. Anti-authority is a huge selling product, and while authority continues in it's attempt to suppress certain lifestyles, they are going to continue to manufacture dissent. Maybe that is the plan, maybe it's all part of the idea of keeping capitalism flowing. I guess the only true anti-authoritarians in this society are those who reject and do not practice modern consumerism. And there aren't really that many people who do.

In the end, there were a few people dressed as punks, using the concert like a beacon to show off their identity, but now that identity is becoming quite irrelevant. The punks of the late 70s / 80s in the vein of Vivian from the young ones are still around. Not too many people who were alive at that stage, but it is still there. Do they wear it as a means of irony in this post-modern environment? I don't think so, more so it seems like mark of symbolism to the anti-establishment movement. The 90s punks still are the same people, now in their mid 20s, now wearing jeans with a Rancid band shirt only partly covering up their tattoos. While the modern punk seems to try and go for shock value again, with lip-rings becoming passé, they've gone the route of earlobe stretching. To see a 17 year old do it seems foolish enough, to see a man in his mid 30s with them is downright funny. You don't look rebellious, you just look idiotic!

It's all aesthetic though, all of this is skin deep, a mask placed over the real person inside as a means of both standing out and fitting in. The true punks are those who actually rebel against authority rather than just feeding the system it despises. The movement hasn't grown up or out, it's become convoluted and just pushed the message "conformity is only cool if you conform to us". The only true punk left is Casey Chaos from Amen, the rest are either pointing out the ironies of the punk movement - like Fat Mike from NoFX, or are using the punk culture as a means of conveying their message. At the concert, what I saw were men and women (mainly men) who were there to see a band they have grown up listening to and wanting to experience live. And that is what the punk movement has become... for better or worse.

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