Through the wind and the rain we ran, Lucy and I, towards Moore Park and into the Entertainment Quarter, heading towards the Hi-Fi. We were already late, due mostly in part to leaving later than expected, but also to ridiculously increased traffic as a result of the rain and the fact that rain seems to make the city completely shut down.
"We might miss both Street Dogs and Strung Out," I said. "But we should be there in time to catch Bad Religion start."
"We will," Lucy said. "If the timing's right, we might not even miss Strung Out. If there's three bands, then Bad Religion shouldn't go up before," she checks my watch, "nine fifteen or so."
This was to be her first punk show.
We get off the bus and arrive at the venue, changed from our original destination of the Big Top at Luna Park for unknown reasons. I'd never been to the Hi-Fi, but it's proximity to the Hordern Pavilion made it an easy find.
When we got there, the line didn't seem so long. It jutted out from the venue, loud bass drums and grungy guitars - from what I thought was Strung Out - audible and blaring from inside.
"I think this is the place," I said.
"Y'think?" Lucy smiled and elbowed me in the ribs.
We went to join the queue and that's when we saw that it extended around the corner of the place.
"God damnit," I said. "Brilliant."
It took twenty minutes of standing in the rain to finally get into the place, wrist stamped and position gained. The band we had heard from outside was finished. I went straight to the merch stall and got a t-shirt.
"Jesus riding a nuke down to the ground like from Strangelove," I said to Lucy, "or pig-headed priest leading the blind choir?"
Lucy stared for a moment. She used to be religious. "I know why you'd want the Jesus-nuke, but I think the pig-priest looks better. Either way, don't wear them in front of my parents."
I bought pig-priest. Lucy pointed at a list on the merch table. It was the band list. I checked my watch.
"We haven't even missed the Street Dogs," I said. "We missed the Menzingers. Oh, well there you go. Bad Religion don't come on til ten forty-five."
Lucy smiled. We staked out a place in the middle of the pit and waited. The lights dimmed after a quarter hour and the Boston boys, the Street Dogs, began to play. All in all, they weren't bad. A traditional punk band with Dropkick Murphys-like elements. A young band earning their stripes, really. The singer had not yet piqued our interest, so his many attempts to get us shouting and dancing were often to no avail, but they were not a bad band and definitely had potential.
When they had finished I squeezed through the throng back towards the bar to get water, making Lucy promise not to move or I'd never find her again. She's a small girl and it was a big crowd. I stumbled through and got a cup of water and came back just as Strung Out were starting.
I was just as equally unimpressed with Strung Out as I was the last time I saw them open for Bad Religion in 2007 for the New Maps of Hell Tour. They are a bland, loud band that is more like a wall of same-sounding noise without any particular style. Sufficed to say, I was bored. But the crowd seemed to like them, so I guess that counts for something.
At one point during a song the singer looked right at me and said, "Don't just stand there looking at me, move!" To which I softly replied, "nope".
They finished, mercifully, in the allotted time and left. It was time for the main event. The big cheeses of punk rock. With over 30 years experience and a 300+ song library to choose from, these guys were always amazing. I had seen them live. I had listened to the live albums. I had even watched live DVDs and clips from concerts uploaded online. I was pumped to see them again. We made our way right up to the front and waited.
And then the lights dimmed.
A roar of joy and anticipation exploded from the crowd as Jay Bentley came onstage and picked up his base. Brooks Wackerman sat down at his kit and Greg Hetson picked up his guitar, blind in the mild dark. Then Jay started to play, busting out the thudding baseline to "Fuck Armageddon...this is Hell". The crowd cheered as loud bellow. Brian Baker came on with his axe and finally, the kind, the commanding master of punk, the professor, Mr. Greg Graffin stepped onstage in his unabashedly and unashamedly uncool outfit of flannel shirt and jeans, pointed at us and then it started.
The crowd crushed forward and we were crushed. The bodies flailed around. Lucy could hardly believe her eyes at the crushing smashes of the pit and the circles. She moved along with them.
After the first three songs, we decided to make our way back and get to a safer distance. To do so, we had to pass through the pit, but we had to get out. We made it back. We could still see the band and could actually hear better from here anyway. I was shouting those lyrics like no one's business.
"Hear it", "Anesthesia", "You Are the Government", "Modern Man", "Generator", "You", "Sanity", all the old classics were there. "Wrong Way Kids" off of the latest alum, Dissent of Man, was there too. The group bantered on stage in their unassuming and experienced way, mostly from Graffin and Bentley.
Then they played the one song from The Empire Strikes First I so desperately wanted to hear, "God's Love".
"Some of you might know the set list already if you looked on the internet," Graffin said before "God's Love", "but no amount of sleuthing will have gotten you this song on there because we just added it to the set list backstage. We haven't even rehearsed it."
"See where your PC has gotten you now?" he sneered with a smile. "I'm sorry, I mean your Mac."
"No!" Bentley cried.
"Right," Graffin meandered around stage. "The innovator is dead so we have to respect him now. Write a 3000 page book about him."
And into the song they went.
The set was hard, fast and excellent.
I slammed myself into the pit for "I Wanna Conquer the World" and got knocked around something fierce, but it was worth it. It's a community in those shows. A strange, bedraggled brotherhood.
"We're trying to release a new album this year," Graffin said. "Even though all you guys like is the old stuff."
"We're going for our first platinum record in 2013."
The group laughed. Pretty much an unachievable goal for a punk band and they knew it. At least, a punk band that wasn't in the style of Green Day or The Offspring.
The main set finished and the crowd began baying for the expected encore.
"We know you're not done yet!"
"You want one more song?" Jay Bentley said. "Well we're gonna play you four!"
And of course, of those four, one was "21st Century Digital Boy" and the grand finale, the great masterpiece, "American Jesus". The crowd - including me - went nuts for that final ten minutes.
Just as abruptly as it had begun, it was over. The lights went up and the people began to file out. Lucy and I grabbed some water and headed back out into the rain.
"That was fantastic," Lucy said as we walked, drenched, along Cleveland Street towards home. "My god, they're the best I've ever seen. Especially in that genre! How have no other bands cottoned on how to do it like that yet?"
"That's what makes them the best," I said. "They've got it going on. And they're so goddamn smart!"
Through the wind and the rain we went back, finally getting a cab back home and collapsing into bed at one thirty a.m. Worth it on a work night? You bet your arse.