Live (January 27th, 2013)
Horseshoe Tavern - Toronto, Ontario
Rolling Stones, Wilco, Willie Nelson, The Ramones, Etta James, The Tragically Hip, Teenage Head, The Police, Stomp’n Tom Connors, Frank Black, Neko Case, Ryan Adams, and now Bad Religion. What do all these bands have in common? They are all globally revered artists and groups equally imperative to their genres, which have played the legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
In Bad Religion’s thirty-year tenure they have certainly played some larger venues than the shoe but this was an album release party of sorts for the punk veterans latest work “True North”. The show was put on by Toronto local radio station 102.1 The Edge. You had to win to get in to this very special engagement at a venue that has a capacity of less than 400 people. Unheard of right?
This was a show I had to see, I woke up the morning of the show with an excitement I haven’t felt in a long time. I just couldn’t fathom seeing a band that meant so much to me in a setting like the Horseshoe Tavern. I have seen the band at least a dozen times in the usual setting but as any avid concert – goer knows venue is everything and when you get a chance to see legends in an intimate setting you are undoubtedly in for a treat.
The excitement was running quite high at the shoe leading up to the 8:30pm start. The stage was decorated with golden tinsel. If that isn’t an obvious sign that we were in for a treat, well I don’t know what is? I maneuvered around until I could find a good nook and cranny to take a few pictures of this special occasion also to prove to my friends this actually happened.
As I stood there getting in a zone I noticed Rush’s Tom Sawyer playing on the house speakers. I thought to myself I can’t really stand Rush and this is terrible music to get the crowd pumped for a BR show. The next song to play was Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call me maybe”. Another odd choice I thought. Oh well as I looked at my feet. So what came up next? “Skater Boy” by Avril Lavigne, and then some bull shit Celine Dion song. It became glaringly obvious Bad Religion was going to make us pay for their free concert by forcing us to listen to stereotypical Canadian content crappiness. Dirty pool Bad Religion. Dirty pool.
After five minutes of Celine Dion the quintessential so cal punk veterans took the stage smirking while greeting the crowd, and then blazed head on into 1988’s “Suffer”.
I was happy they started with an oldie. I was slightly worried that they would play their new album from start to finish. But they didn’t. Seeing them so close and feeling their sonic energy from three feet away was an amazing experience.
I continued to photograph them for approximately 15 minutes before it struck me that I need to go grab a couple of Steam Whistle Pilsners and stand back so I can truly take this experience in. Getting out of the pit was tricky as nobody wanted to move an inch. The small bar was completely packed but my thirst for a beer and a sweet eye line was not going to stop me.
The crowd was interesting. I had no idea what to expect. There were definitely some hardcore fans, but with this being a show of contest winners there were also a lot of people who you could tell were not privy to how special of an engagement this truly was. After all I heard a guy on the radio two days before win tickets because he called in to a show called “What’s wrong with you?” This is where callers phone in and tell messed up stories about themselves and usually the most pathetic story wins a prize. This particular guy won tickets because he told a story about walking in on his wife of 17 years having sex with his 17 year old son’s best friend. I’m guessing this guy may have been one of the people selling his tickets for this show on Craigslist for $170 a piece. Who knows?
Anyway Bad Religion ripped through their vast discography playing classics from the 80’s, 90’s, the 2000’s, and whatever the hell you call the decade we are in now. Bangers like Only Gonna Die, Anastesia, You, Conquer the World, Modern Man, Sorrow, and American Jesus had never sounded so good to me live before this.
Front man Greg Graffin also displayed how hilarious he actually is. I guess the confined space put more pressure on between song banter as Graffin proved he has the moves like Jager as he danced while telling tales of playing the Rivoli (a few bars down the street) in ’87 the same night the Stones were playing the Horseshoe. He also cleverly mocked the inevitable drunk guy at every show who loves to continually yell out that one obscure song we all know the band has zero intention on playing. The band also seemed to be having a genuinely good time performing in the small setting themselves. I’m sure it was quite a different experience for them as well but they looked totally comfortable and excitable during their hour and a half performance.
I have seen Bad Religion perform at a lot of venues in a lot of cities in my time but I have never seen them like this. It was truly epic. To hear those crispy-layered guitar riffs, Jay Bentley’s pounding bass, Brooks Wackerman’s furious drumming, the background staple ooooz’n aaaahs, and Graffin’s brilliant lyrics and crystal clear vocals in a setting like The Horseshoe Tavern will be something I’ll never forget.
If veteran bands are looking to reconnect with fans or break the mold of a regular gig from a fan’s perspective I highly recommend the big band in a small venue format. You really feel like you’re part of something special.
Every generation has that artist or band that they connect, identify, and grow up with. Bad Religion is my Springsteen, my Clash, my Public Enemy, my Jimi Hendrix, my Michael Jackson, my Beatles, my Elvis, or my Bob Dylan.
As I exited the concert hall and walked down the stairs past the long bar of the Tavern I thought to myself how cool it was to feel something so new and so exciting with a band I’ve been listening to over half of my existing life and that is a very special feeling or thing to experience. Before I walked out the door I quickly realized this was by far one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.