In the summer of 2014 Southern Californian punk rock veterans The Offspring and Bad Religion joined forces for the US Summer Nationals Tour: this week, the two bands finally shared stages for the first time in the UK, with a whistle-stop tour taking in shows in Glasgow, Birmingham and London. But who came out on top in this history-making punk rock rumble? We checked out the duo’s sets at London’s Eventim Apollo and assessed the evidence…
BILLING AND PRODUCTION
Bad Religion may have five years more experience than their Huntington Beach peers, but The Offspring are undeniably the more commercially successful of the two bands, and so while the Summer Nationals are notionally a co-headline package, seniority notwithstanding, it’s Dexter Holland’s band who have their name in larger type on the ticket and who close out the show. In terms of staging however, there’s no grandstanding from either band. Green Day aside, punk rock has never leaned heavily on production gimmicks, and tonight both acts perform with a bare bones set-up, with just a simple back-drop and minimum lighting. The Offspring might have an additional stage riser for touring guitarist Todd Morse (formerly of H2O and Juliette and The Licks) and some functional back-lighting, but the mutual respect shared by the two ensures there’s no sense of the more successful band lording it over their brethren.
Winner: A tie.
With lyrics such as ‘When the wheel of fortune turns progressively depraved, it’s the manifestation of a biospheric decay’ (from set-opener Crisis Time), Bad Religion’s iconic reputation has never been predicated on their ability to tickle ribs. However, as intellectual and philosophical as Professor Greg Graffin (PhD, Cornell University) undoubtedly is, he cuts an avuncular, amiable presence onstage. Similarly, doctoral student Brian ‘Dexter’ Holland (MS, University of Southern California) is no clown, but he does have mild-mannered former janitor Noodles to bounce his dry wit off. They’re a decent double act: when Holland coquettishly enquires if the “sexy” audience have been working out, Noodles ups the stakes by claiming “each and every one of you is going in my spank bank!” He’s a charmer, that boy, though we suspect he’s not being <> honest when later in the show he declares “Not only is this the best crowd we’ve ever played to in London: this is the best crowd in the history of the world!” As entertaining as this BS is, however, we’re awarding the Black Sabbath-Inspired Gag of The Night accolade to Bad Religion’s Jay Bentley, who upon hearing Greg Graffin musing upon the meaning of the word ‘geezer’ (“I understand now that it’s not a bad thing”), chips in with the observation “He’s not a bad bass player either.” Subtle.
Winner: Bad Religion
On the eve of the EU Referendum, we were anticipating some political commentary from our American cousins, and both acts took gamely to the task. Befitting a man who regularly sings ‘You’ll get no direction from me’, Graffin confines his contribution to saying “I don’t know where you stand on this Brexit thing, but this song is still apropos…” before Bad Religion launched into You Are (The Government), while Noodles notes “You guys have a big decision to make tomorrow… Whatever you guys decide, our hearts are with you.” The Offspring then pulled off a masterstroke though by blasting out an abbreviated cover of The Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go, which ensures their triumph in this category.
Winner: The Offspring
With the majority of their summertime taken up by festival appearances, these trio of ‘theatre’ shows offered both bands the opportunity to veer ‘off-piste’ from their traditional greatest hits sets. In Glasgow, that meant Bad Religion airing no fewer than nine tracks from 1989’s No Control album, but in London only I Want To Conquer The World is retained, with the Californian band instead dishing up seven songs from 1988’s Suffer, including lesser-aired tracks such as How Much Is Enough? and Delirium of Disorder. Even the most casual BR fan though was well served, with the likes of 21st Century (Digital Boy), Atomic Garden, American Jesus, Los Angeles Is Burning and Sorrow appearing in the quintet’s thrilling 45 minute set. Not bad for a band who’ve never had a UK top 40 single.
The Offspring, by contrast, have racked up nine top 40 singles in the past 21 years and each one of them (bar 2000’s awful Original Prankster) is in tonight’s set-list. There’s one new song (Coming For You, set to appear on the forthcoming Bob Rock-produced follow-up to 2012’s Days Go By at some point in the future), but when the ‘deep cuts’ here – Genocide, Bad Habit – are lifted from an album that has sold some 16 million copies, you know their 75 minute set isn’t going to have too many lulls. And so we’re treated to former number one single (Pretty Fly) For A White Guy, Want You Bad, Hit That, Million Miles Away, (Can’t Get My) Head Around You, Come Out And Play (Keep ‘em Separated) and, inevitably, to round things off, Self Esteem. The Offspring might never be afforded the credibility Bad Religion enjoy from punk rock purists, but no other band in their genre can deliver so many gold standard smashes.
Winner: The Offspring
MOSHPIT OF THE NIGHT
American Jesus incites the most frenzy during Bad Religion’s set, but the crowd’s energy levels are visibly higher for The Offspring, not least on the frequently-derided Why Don’t You get A Job? which in addition to proving to be the evening’s loudest singalong, sees pandemonium erupt in the sell-out 5000 capacity crowd, and ignites a hilariously huge, whirling, linked-arms circle pit. That a green, white and orange lighting scheme is employed just as news of the Republic of Ireland’s historic win over Italy in Euro 2016 breaks is presumably sheer coincidence, but as parties go, this is right up there with whatever the Green Army got up to in Lille.
Winner: The Offspring
As awesome as Bad Religion were here, and truthfully the LA veterans were on fire, the honours must surely go to The Offspring. That said, for everyone here [drum roll/cheesy smile] music was the true winner tonight.