Bad Religion have been around a long time (they've been together for over twenty years at this point) and influenced a whole lot of bands and it's quite surprising that it's taken so long for them to really get their due on DVD. Sure, there have been releases of The Riot, Along The Way and the Flipside disc that shares space with a Circle Jerks show, but all of that was material that was previously available on VHS and as such it wasn't really tailor made for the DVD format. Well, all of that has changed with Bad Religion – Live At The Palladium. No more washed out VHS transfer footage, no more wonky sound mixes and no more mediocre quality – this is the one that fans have been waiting for.
Filmed over two nights in November of 2004 at the Palladium in Los Angeles, the band proves that while their style may have changed over the years, they're still a fantastic live presence and over the course of this two hour and fifteen minute presentation they blister through both new and old songs from pretty much each and everyone one of their albums. The concert footage was shot using ten different cameras from ten different angles and then edited down to what we have on this DVD and in short, the results are fantastic – Bad Religion has never looked or sounded so good on home video before, in fact, few bands have.
In addition to the performance footage, the feature also contains a wealth of interviews with each and every one of the band members as well as fans old and new. While sometimes this can break up a concert, here it works well and it gives us a chance to kind of get into the band members' heads a little bit. Graffin explains the significance of the bands notorious cross buster logo and the influence that The Adolescents had on their sound what with the three part harmonies and all. Gurewitz openly discusses the time he spent away from the band, dedicating all of his time to Epitaph Records once the success of bands like Nirvana ended up 'breaking punk into the mainstream' which in turn somehow resulted in making The Offspring a huge deal and moving millions of records. He talks about what it was like to be away from the group and how he feels about being back on board. The other band members talk about their time on the road, bands that influenced them while they were in their formative years (Black Flag and of course The Circle Jerks come up a fair bit in these talks) and Graffin explains the importance of politics in the band's lyrics. It's all actually pretty interesting stuff, these guys are sharp and intelligent and far more interesting than your average punk band and they've got the battle scars to prove it. The fans who are interviewed explain why the like the band, who their favorite members are and why, how they've been influenced by them and what it is about Bad Religion that's struck such a chord (or maybe a nerve?) for them.
The complete track listing for the concert, which was shot over two nights and edited down to one performance, is as follows:
Highlights from the set include a rather unexpected performance of Cease, in which Graffin sits down behind a piano and does the song accompanied by some acoustic guitar playing – it might feel odd hearing this at a Bad Religion show but there's no denying the power of the song and hearing performed this way only drives that point home. From 21st Century Digital Boy through to Infected we see the band just giving one hundred percent and during these tracks it's really easy to forget that these guys aren't teenagers anymore but are in fact in their forties. There's a lot of energy here and the tracks are played as fast as they ever have been.
Anyone familiar with their fairly extensive body of work will notice that there's a nice mix of early tracks and more recent tracks in the set list and while it's the early stuff that made most of us fans and the early stuff that many of us go back to time and time again, there's no denying that more recent tracks like Los Angeles Is Burning sound pretty good live. Since Recipe For Hate their albums seem to have lost some of the anger that made their material so passionate and so easy for like minded individuals to enjoy and you can see some of that in the live show – having seen them in the early nineties before 'punk broke' it was obvious to this reviewer that the band isn't as physically pissed off looking on stage as they used to be. That being said, they have matured as an outfit and as individuals and their stance and worldview hasn't softened at all. If you listen to Graffin's still poignant lyrics they're still antagonistic and still thought provoking even if he looks a little happier now while he sings them. These guys have been going at this for over twenty years now and the fact that they sound as good live now as they do on this DVD is a testament to their ability as musicians and to their dedication to their craft.
Two things worth mentioning about the presentation on this disc are that there is the option to watch the feature with the interviews tucked in or as a concert only, and whenever a new song comes up in the set, a text scroll shows up and names it for you accompanied by a small icon showcasing the cover art of the album that it was originally recorded for.
The video is presented in a solid anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen transfer that overall looks really, really nice. The colors are well reproduced and the picture is clear and clean. Black levels remain stable throughout though there are some mild compression artifacts present in a few spots. One thing that's definitely worth noting is that usually live performances don't look so hot on DVD as the lights tend to wash out a lot of the detail – thankfully that isn't the case here and the live footage looks excellent. You can see all the detail from the sweat on Graffin's forehead to the strings on the guitars and the close ups that the camera pulls into during certain segments leave nothing to the imagination. This is, quite sincerely, one of the nicest looking concert DVDs this reviewer has ever seen which, when you consider that it's Bad Religion and not, say, The Rolling Stones, is high praise indeed.
The bass and drums on this Dolby Digital 5.1 track are great. They're not too heavy, not too light, and have just the right amount of punctuation in the mix. Vocals come through easily enough and you shouldn't have any problems understanding Graffin as he tears his way through the set. The guitar could have been a little heavier in the front of the soundstage in one or two tracks but for the most part it sounds nice and loud and aside from that, this is an excellent sound mix. Surrounds are used mainly for background noise and crowd noise though there is some nice channel separation up front during the show. Overall, the sound mix is very nicely done on this release.
While the disc isn't super stacked in the supplements department, there are some nice bonus features in here that should give Bad Religion fans a cheap thrill or two. First and foremost, Epitaph has included two performances that the band did on a television show called The New Wave Theater that was shot between 1981 (they do Bad Religion, Slaves, and Oligarchy, ) and 1983 (this time out they do Only Gonna Die). The quality of these in terms of the audio and the video is surprisingly good and it's fun to see the band here in their early years just bashing it out as fast as they can. The band provide some brief interviews in between songs here as well.
In addition to that, there are six promotional videos included on this release for the following songs: American Jesus, Atomic Garden, Los Angeles Is Burning, Broken, Sorry and Struck A Nerve.
Rounding out the extra features are a decent sized still gallery of photos from throughout the band's history and an insert booklet that features some brief liner notes, credits, DVD production notes, lyrics, and a few more pictures of the group.
Bad Religion – Live At The Palladium is an absolutely fantastic package overall. While it would have been nice to see more promotional videos and more archival footage in the extra features section, the feature itself runs for well over two hours and it looks and sounds fantastic through and through. Epitaph has knocked this one out of the park. Highly recommended.