Bad Religion: Live at the Palladium [DVD]

Bad Religion

The revolution will not be televised… the revolution will be live.
— Gil Scott Heron

When Gil Scott Heron wrote these infamous lines, he could not have predicted the full onslaught of the DIY media age, nor could he have foreseen the effects that it would have on the larger culture. When he wrote his most famous song, videos weren’t even a fledgling industry, and the VCR revolution was several years away. Today, even the smallest gesture can be recorded, replayed, and kept for posterity on a DVD or a PC.

This has yielded mixed results. On one hand, in the wrong hands, mass media can provide sensory overload and desensitization to the very artifacts it is attempting to preserve, making it all but impossible to sift through the vast array of information or entertainment at our disposal (been to youtube lately?). But occasionally, the ability to possess anything ever recorded onto film can yield great results. Such is the case with the still young industry of concert DVDs.

One of the most influential of the politically revolutionary punk bands, who share many of the same values and reservations as Gil Scott Heron, is Bad Religion. But due perhaps to the same DIY ethic that keeps them out of the mainstream (and caused fans no small consternation when they signed briefly to a major label), there has been a reluctance to memorialize the band effectively. Before now, to preserve a performance on high-quality film would be costly, and therefore would risk credibility, so fans have been content to own various low-quality, bootleg-looking visual records of the band. But no more.

It has been a long time coming, but Live at the Palladium is the kind of DVD that makes any other prior release practically obsolete. This is not to say that it is flawless, but simply that it is essential. For instance, the set list contains a substantial number of songs from The Empire Strikes First (six), but they do pick the strongest tracks (in the process, making that album sound a lot more solid than it actually is), and they evenly represent almost every stage in the band’s 20-plus year-old career (excepting the Into the Unknown [an album the band has unanimously disavowed] and both of the final two albums made during Mr. Brett Gurewitz’s self-imposed exile [although strangely, they do feature three songs from the first post-Gurewitz record, The Grey Race, including Greg Gaffin’s chillingly beautiful solo piano rendition of “Cease”]).

The look and sound of the DVD are nothing short of amazing. For some reason, most bands, even some of the most successful, can’t seem to produce a DVD that looks or sounds any better than a freshman film-student project (Cheap Trick leaps to mind). While Live at the Palladium may not be quite on the level with Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz or Jonathan Demme’s trinity (Stop Making Sense, Storefront Hitchcock and Heart of Gold), it is without a doubt, the best looking and sounding punk concert DVD on the market, with the possible exception of Green Day’s American Idiot (a film that, while well-filmed, suffered from occasionally sluggish pacing, which is definitely not the case here). The sets are relatively simple but powerful, and the lighting, mostly in red and white to match the set’s backdrop, is clear and rich, bolstered by a driving 5.1 mix.

While set lists, looks and sound are important, the most significant aspect of any performance DVD is the performance itself, and here is where Bad Religion truly deliver. They are, quite simply, gripping. While they’ve never been the textbook example of what “punk-cool” looks like (in fact, I often found myself thinking that Greg Gaffin is what Robert Pollard might resemble if he ever sobered up, got an age-appropriate haircut, and discovered that he had something significant to say), their down-to-earth look, especially that of Gaffin, dressed for casual Friday at your local real-estate office, serves only to drive home the point that this band has very little concern for the superficial. Instead, they focus their energy on ripping through a daunting catalog of material with enough enthusiasm and stamina to intimidate many bands half their age.

While the concert is amazing and exhilarating (not exhausting, amazingly, for a set list that includes 31 songs), what may be of equal interest to fans is the interview footage from band members spliced between sets of songs. While there is an option allowing the viewer to omit these interviews — finally somebody gets it — even the most casual curious fan would be well-served to leave the interviews in, at least the first time around, as they are fascinating, informative and well-paced.

While Gil Scott Heron may not have foreseen the possibilities of mass media in revolution, he was right about one thing: “The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.” Now you can turn on the DVD player, pick your sound and vision options from the set-up menu, sit back, and prepare to be amazed by a truly remarkable concert from a revolutionary band.

RATING 8 / 10