Bad Religion best of bunch in '90s punk reunion tour preview

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You would think The Offspring, Bad Religion and Pennywise had crossed paths somewhere along the Warped Tour trail, but that never actually happened.

The Offspring pretty much bypassed that by blowing up to arena-size proportions quickly with its third album "Smash." The last gathering of these tribes was the year that album came out, 1994, at the three-day Summer Nationals presented by Epitaph Records at the Hollywood Palladium.

Twenty years later, the California wave punk bands have reconvened for a Summer Nationals Tour, which opened Tuesday night at a Stage AE packed for the biggest old-school punk gathering here in years.

Most of the gentlemen on this tour are at or around 50 and finding AARP applications in their junk mail, but, hey, if Iggy Pop can still do it ...

Most of the bands also have younger members mixed in, including The Vandals, who came out of Huntingdon Beach a few years before The Offspring in 1980.

Led by Dave Quackenbush, the band specializes in what is now an odd form of gray-haired bratty punk. If you saw The Vandals walking along the North Shore you'd think they were four guys on the way to the game.

They did a fun half-hour with Quackenbush goofing on his band members and the crowd while bashing out punk nuggets like "Oi to the World" and the hilarious "My Girlfriend's Dead," building to crazy guitarist Warren Fitzgerald closing with an over-the-top "Don't Stop Me Now." The best part may have come after "People That Are Going to Hell" when Quackenbush said, "Bad Religion is going to hell, that's for sure."

Pennywise, once a Warped constant, is on its first full tour in four years with singer Jim Lindberg, last seen in rock doc "The Other F Word," about punk rock dads.

The Hermosa Beach band hit the stage plowing through title track "Pennywise," after which Mr. Lindberg said, "That's it. We're tired. We're going home."

Instead, Pennywise carried on with 42 more minutes of hard thudding, no-frills anti-authoritarian punk, touching on oldies like "Peaceful Day" and "Perfect People," covering "Blitzkrieg Bop" and introducing the new "Yesterdays."

Of course, they were slightly more entertaining between songs, with giant guitarist Fletcher Dragge making fat jokes and such, and it all led up to a spirited, fist-raising, soccer-style chanting of "Bro Hymn."

Bad Religion raised its "crossbuster" banner and burst out with a breakneck speed and intensity it would maintain for the next 45 minutes. Frontman Greg Graffin apologized for ignoring Pittsburgh the last seven years and explained to potential newcomers that the band had been around for a while (as in 1979). "You can tell by the gray hair."

He's certainly the rare punk rocker working the white-haired, Polo shirt professorial look (maybe cause he's actually a professor).

He brings gravitas to one of the all-time great punk bands, which has a distinct buzzing and bludgeoning sound that it basically applies to every song: among them "You Are (The Government)," "Best for You," "Infected" and, best of all, "Sorrow" and "American Jesus."

With "Smash" being one of the all-time biggest punk albums at 6 million sales, it made sense to come out and play it all on its 20th anniversary.

The Offspring even started with the corny "Time to Relax" intro. Frontman Dexter Holland, looking very Gary Busey these days, powered that album with one of those shrill voices that was going to be almost impossible to duplicate at 48.

With the beginning of "Nitro (Youth Energy)," it was obvious he was dropping it down an octave and also hitting some flat notes, but it was almost to be expected. The band went at it with the same old speed and youthful energy, keeping security busy with crowd-surfers flying over the barricade -- especially during the hits: "Gotta Get Away," "Come Out and Play," with its participatory "hey!" chant, and "Self-Esteem," moved to last.

The singer, who claimed to be getting a contact high. seemed touched by the size and opening night energy of the crowd. Same with guitar sidekick Noodles, who excitedly announced a bloodline to Pittsburgh: His grandfather was from a local orphanage.

After the 45-minute album, The Offspring faked an intermission but quickly returned with an assortment of favorites, including "All I Want." "Why Don't You Get a Job?" and gimmick hit "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)."

An Offspring Warped set would have been a killer half-hour. An hour and 15 minutes proved to be a near-lethal dose of a shrieking Dexter Holland.

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