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POP MUSIC REVIEW : A Tamer Bad Religion Still Rocks at Palladium : Band uses perfected harmonies and clean chording. One can even hear the lyrics over the din.


Punk fashions are back in Vogue. A band fronted by a sort of Johnny Rotten-looking singer (the Stone Temple Pilots) has been in the Billboard Top 10 most of this year, and K mart sells Doc Marten-looking "Grunge Boots."

Now that punk-rock has become officially known as "alternative"--i.e., mainstream-- it makes a certain amount of sense that some of the real punk bands might by now sound less dangerous than the pretend ones that infest MTV. Real punk bands have less to prove.

Take Bad Religion, Los Angeles hard-core heroes who finally signed to Atlantic Records after a jillion self-produced albums on their own label.

At the Palladium on Friday night, at the first show of a sold-out two-night stand, Bad Religion was almost Hullabalooish, with newly perfected harmonies in the Kingston Trio vein, clean chording, in-tune harmonizing on the choruses. You could actually hear the lyrics over the roar.


Singer Greg Graffin, who is a doctoral student at Cornell and sounds it, with Lewis Thomas-ish musings on the place of man in the biological universe where you'd expect to hear rants, is a sober presence on stage, about as threatening as Tom Hatten introducing a Popeye cartoon, and punctuates his singing with a little professorial head-wagging.

Lead guitarist Greg Hetson, the ex-Circle Jerks guitarist who has become something like the punk-rock Angus Young, mugged and bounced, and actually sometimes took a Frampton-esque two-bar solo, but seemed sort of frisky and friendly.

The show was polished as anything that ever hopped onto the Tomorrowland stage.

Maybe it's just that Bad Religion has become a mature band--even its trademark anti-religion songs sound now kind of like the things a bunch of renegade Jesuits might whisper to themselves over tea.

A dude from Biohazard sang along with Graffin on one song, and Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano wandered onto the stage for a while, stomped around waifily and sang some background vocals that you really couldn't hear.

But make no mistake, Bad Religion is still a hard-core band. There was very little actual riffage, most songs begin with the same 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4 formula that has been with punk-rock since the Ramones, and it was still impossible to tell one song from another until the vocals came in.

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