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When two California punk rock heroes combine, you’d better believe there will be raucous nights to remember when Bad Religion and Social Distortion hit stages around Australia next February.
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A co-headline tour for the ages, the collision of LA’s finest punks and Orange County’s iconic rock’n’rollers, Bad Religion and Social Distortion collectively, will see both bands bust out material from their respective four decade (and counting) careers. With plenty of riffs, frenzied melodics, and thought-provoking tunes undoubtedly on the menu come February 2023, the reaction has been nothing short of palpable following the announcement that both bands would, at long last, be returning to our shores. And, as Bad Religion guitarist Brian Baker recently revealed to Hysteria, the excitement that fans have shown following the announcement is returned equally, if not more so, by the bands.
“This is the best of all worlds for us,” Baker enthuses, “We love going to Australia, it’s just an incredible privilege. It’s so fucking far away. And I tell people, it’s not like you’re an average tourist. My friends who aren’t in bands can just be like: “Oh, we’re just gonna go down to Brissie”. It’s like: “No, it’s really expensive and it’s far”. But because I’m a musician, I get away with this kind of thing and I get to go to some of the most beautiful places in the world.”
“I love that it’s a completely different society, a completely foreign country. But I speak the language … kind of,” Baker pauses, laughing. “I know I have to abbreviate more. Make it like: BR is coming with SD? But in general, it’s nice to be able to engage people with complex thoughts. So, thank you for having the same basic language.”
With the impending shows alongside longtime friends Social Distortion, it certainly won’t be Baker or Bad Religion’s first visit to Australia. But, as Baker reveals, he’d previously picked up on some Australianisms, thanks in part to a certain Mel Gibson apocalyptic flick.
“I’m familiar with the slang, with a lot of slang,” Baker grins, speaking on the unique Australian lingo. “I’m also a film buff, the first time I saw Mad Max, the original, I picked up how to speak some Australian. And I’m also an Anglophile, and that kind of dovetails nicely because Australia is a little bit like the UK but with parts of Los Angeles. It’s really pretty and beautiful, and it’s not really grey and shitty. It’s just a perfect mix of everything.”
“And to top it off, we’ll be visiting next year with Social Distortion, who are one of my absolutely favourite bands, and have been since I was a little kid. It’s the perfect mix! I would personally go to this show if I wasn’t playing it, I would love to see this. And I’m just so grateful that I get to be part of it.”
A band insatiably renowned for their explosive onstage presence and high octane yet thematically hard-hitting tunes, 2022 has seen Bad Religion able to return to their natural habitat in a live setting; and, given the lack of live music in the wake of the pandemic, it’s certainly a sensation that Baker and the band have not been taking for granted.
There is such a high bar, and I can’t wait to get up there in Australia and fucking destroy it. There’s this joy of playing and it’s the energy that comes from the people, and especially in a place like Australia, where we haven’t been in a long time.
[ Brian Baker ]
“We’ve been lucky enough to have come back pretty much for most of 2022,” says Baker. “And even still, every time I walk on stage, there’s this moment like: I can’t believe we’re doing this again. I tell myself to remember every moment, suck it all in because now we know it could all go away.”
“I was sitting at home in 2020 and I thought that I would never get to see Australia or Japan, or even just a stage in general! You just didn’t know. So, there’s this gratitude and this sort of celebratory aspect to performing now. It also helps that we, as a band, are better now than we have ever been – at least while I’ve been in it.”
“There is such a high bar, and I can’t wait to get up there in Australia and fucking destroy it. There’s this joy of playing and it’s the energy that comes from the people, and especially in a place like Australia, where we haven’t been in a long time. And even then, we’ve been playing festivals where there are people who are obviously Bad Religion fans, but there’s also people who have no idea who we are. There’s a different energy when you’re playing smaller venues than a festival stage with a band like us and a band like Social Distortion. Australia is going to go off. I’m getting kind of tingly just talking about it!”
With 17 studio albums to draw from when crafting a setlist, and the chance to play longer sets on their upcoming Australian tour as opposed to a festival slot, Bad Religion are certainly spoiled for choice when it comes to material. But, as Baker firmly emphasises, they aren’t just dedicated to mixing up the sets for both the band and the fans – they also want their sets to be entirely all killer, no filler.
“We only play our good songs,” Baker immediately declares after elaborating on his excitement for the upcoming Aussie shows. “We don’t play the bad ones. We don’t have time to play all the good songs. But for our sets, we touch on every era. But the point is: let’s play the songs that people want to sing! And I also wanna sing ‘em still!”
“My favourite song to play is goddamn 21st Century (Digital Boy),” continues Baker. “And people are like: “Why do you wanna play that song? You’ve played it like 150 times?!”. And I’m like: “Because it’s great!! And it makes me feel good every time!”. There’s always some little nuance I pick up on every time that I play it, there’s always something new to discover. I’m like: “Oh yeah, look at that, I didn’t know the bass did that there”. It still happens, to this day!”
“It stays fresh for us too, because we like to switch the setlist around. I mean, we’ve been around for so long, we know how to play hundreds of songs. And it’s fun to mix it up, especially when we have situations where people follow us from city to city, especially in the States, that just works because it’s such a big country. We don’t wanna play the same thing every night.”
We don’t play the bad ones. We don’t have time to play all the good songs. But for our sets, we touch on every era. But the point is: let’s play the songs that people want to sing! And I also wanna sing ‘em still!
[ Brian Baker ]
“If I was a fan and following Bad Religion, I’d be excited. Like: “Oh my god, they dug up that fossil from, like, 1902. Look at that, look at ‘em go!”. It’s not just the greatest hits, and we always find ways to surprise.”
With Baker joining the band in 1994, riding high from his prolific and pioneering turn with hardcore legends Minor Threat, and having had to make the difficult choice to turn down a touring spot with R.E.M to officially join Bad Religion, Baker has since become an integral and beloved fixture in the Bad Religion legacy. And going from genuine fan to bandmate, Baker’s first official live outing with the group took him to a festival stage in Germany; and, ever so casually with no official rehearsal, performing to a massive crowd.
“It was amazing,” Baker says of his first ever live Bad Religion live experience. “It was a festival in Germany called Bizarre Festival, and there was probably about 50,000 people there. I had never been to Germany and I had never played a Bad Religion set. And honestly, I had only rehearsed once with the entire band. I had gone to work with Greg [Graffin, Bad Religion’s vocalist] and gone over the songs at his house. Then I was in Los Angeles, and I played with Jay [Bentley], Bobby [Schayer) and [Greg] Hetson; but I’d never done a proper rehearsal.”
“At the time I was replacing Brett Guerwitz, who is not only an incredible musician, but also just part of the identity of Bad Religion. And Brett was in the audience, all of this is happening all at once. It was kind of all a blur, but it was a lot of fun. I definitely messed up pretty seriously. But I’ve learned, you know, even now I look back at it and I’m like: “Okay, I might have missed half of the song No Control, but it just goes by like that! And with a savvy sound man, they can bandage that wound. And in retrospect, the whole experience was successful.”
“Eventually, I learned how to play most of our songs,” Baker laughs. “I’m still a work in progress.”
Initially starting off on bass with Minor Threat in his early career before switching to guitar, Baker’s impact on the musical landscape has been nothing less than profuse, with Baker also previously lending his handiwork with bands Dag Nasty, Samhain, Doggy Style and The Meatmen, and also as a guest artist for the likes of Blood Bats, Unwritten Law, Hot Water Music, and a countless array of others. But while Baker humbly shrugs off his abundant successes over the years, he does hold particular soft spots for a few key bands who have been instrumental in who he is as a musician today; and yes, one of them is Australian.
“The Damned are the biggest punk influence that I still have,” Baker reveals, “and that’s still as powerful to me as it was back in the day. I mean, of course, we had the Ramones and Sex Pistols, but The Damned is what clicked with me.”
“And it’s gonna sound pretty weird, but how great is it because you’re in Australia …” Baker smiles, before continuing, “Without AC/DC, I wouldn’t be here. AC/DC was the first band that I got into heavily when I was around 10 years old or so. And I learned so much about guitar from Malcolm and Angus. But Malcolm was really the key to revealing: how does a man play the guitar? The power that guy had and the consistency! At the time, I was so young, and it really helped bring me into what I play now. A great dude gone far too soon.”
“Angus is obviously a god, but I think that Malcolm is really the unsung hero, and the underdog. When you really get into AC/DC, you understand that without Malcolm, in those formative years – there is no AC/DC. It wouldn’t have happened without Malcolm.”
“Basically, you can hear AC/DC all over the Bad Religion stuff that I do, if you look for it. And then in other parts, it’s The Damned. They were both so important to me, and I listen to them both now, still to this day.”
Bringing his love for AC/DC, Australia in general, and great mates Social Distortion down under in 2023, Baker’s sheer passion and talent will be firmly on display when he and Bad Religion prove exactly why their legacy has endured for over four decades. Come get your punk on.
WEDNESDAY 15 FEBRUARY 2023 // TRUSTS ARENA // AUCKLAND
FRIDAY 17 FEBRUARY 2023 // RIVERSTAGE // BRISBANE
SATURDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2023 // HORDERN PAVILION // SYDNEY
SUNDAY 19 FEBRUARY 2023 // MARGARET COURT ARENA // MELBOURNE
WEDNESDAY 22 FEBRUARY 2023 // RED HILL AUDITORIUM // PERTH