Any review of The Offspring’s Summer Nationals tour would be remiss in downplaying the importance of that band’s breakout album, Smash, in the annals of punk rock history. Yet, the virtues of the year in punk that was 1994 have been extolled myriad times over in the two decades since, quite frequently by men and women far more eloquent than I. So while nostalgia may have been the overarching theme of the night (the four bands on the Boston bill, The Offspring, Bad Religion, Pennywise and The Vandals have, according to my fuzzy math, been hawking their wares for a collective 115 or so years), the biggest takeaway from this night’s stop was just how vital and, frankly, timeless this particular wing of the punk rock museum can be.
The Vandals’ 30-minute-or-so opening slot set an early tone, packing a high level of energy and fun into an all-too-brief package. Themselves capable of headlining many a nationwide tour (albeit probably not selling out the 2400+ capacity House of Blues in Boston), The Vandals eleven-song set was incapable of digging too deep into their thirty-year catalog. The band drew fairly heavily from 1998’s Hitler Bad, Vandals Good (which is more than okay in my book), with crowd favorites like “Oi to The World” and guitarist (not bassist) Warren Fitzgerald assuming frontman duties for their spastic, show-closing cover of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” thrown in for good measure.
Pennywise and Bad Religion followed in that order, each relegated to 45ish-minute sets, leaving little time for small talk, meaning that both bands came out hard and fast. Pennywise’s 14-song set featured a heavy dose of crowd interplay that served as the only real time the band’s foot was off the accelerator. I will say that there’s something a little different about a seeing frontman coaxing a crowd whose average age was well north of 30 to raise their collective middle fingers to authority. Yet, at the same time, decades old tracks like “Perfect People” and “Society” seem perhaps more relevant in 2014 than they were when they were first written.
Backed by the human gas pedal that is Brooks Wackerman (who did double duty behind the drum kit on this tour, filling in for The Vandals’ Josh Freese), Bad Religion made the most of their time slot, somehow cramming 17-songs into 45 minutes. Awe, who am I kidding…somehow? It’s Bad Religion, that’s how. Never a group to write magnum Rush-style opuses, Greg Graffin and company get right to the point. Though the parts may have changed and the hair may have grayed over the years, Bad Religion continue to stake their claim as one of the tightest, most dynamic bands running. Also…the Suffer mini-set was A)unexpected and B)much appreciated.
Last but not least, obviously, was The Offspring. The headliners, and arguably one of the more polarizing bands in the punk genre for last couple decades, have been playing Smash in honor of its 20th anniversary. However, in a somewhat interesting twist, they’ve not been playing it in order. In this particular writer’s opinion, that was a good move. “Play the album in order” shows have the effect of being presented stale at times, given that a band can effectively sleepwalk through the same performance in the same order night in and night out. The “shuffle” mode has a way of at least appearing to keep the band on their toes. Anyway…Smash circa 2014 doesn’t have quite the same impact that it did twenty years ago. Unlike the politically charged rebellion tunes of Pennywise or Bad Religion or the sarcastic, locker-room brand of humor that The Vandals prefer, Smash‘s tunes of rebellious youth don’t come off quite the same when performed by the middle-aged version of the band. Which is, precisely, why the band have progressed sonically and changed lyrically over the years, meaning that much of the newer, “less punk” stuff has a way of translating as more honest now. But tonight wasn’t about “now,” and tonight was a perfect reminder of exactly what resonated for so many people twenty years ago.
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