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Punk rock nostalgia: The Offspring, Bad Religion and Pennywise party like it’s 1994

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Chase Stevens/Erik Kabik Photography

Three stars

The Offspring, Bad Religion, Pennywise August 27, The Joint.

This has been a summer of ’90s nostalgia tours in Vegas, and in some ways the punk rock Summer Nationals tour isn’t much different from packages featuring bands like Sugar Ray and Everclear. Like those bands, The Offspring, Bad Religion and Pennywise had a few popular radio songs during the ’90s and have been playing to increasingly insular fan bases since then. But all three bands also came from a vibrant Southern California punk scene that supported them before they hit it big, and that punk-rock dedication has helped support them in the years following. Certainly the packed crowd at the Joint (even for Pennywise, who went on right after openers Stiff Little Fingers) spoke to the enthusiasm that fans still have for this music.

The Offspring at The Joint

There were loud sing-alongs and vigorous mosh pits throughout the night, but it was all still fueled by nostalgia. Pennywise performed in front of a banner touting its 25 years as a band, and when guitarist Fletcher Dragge introduced a song from recent album Yesterdays, he made sure to point out that the album features new recordings of songs written years ago, so they aren’t really new. “Pretend like it’s ’89,” he told the crowd, and they complied.

Overall, Pennywise’s set was a bit sloppy, with Dragge and singer Jim Lindberg spending nearly as much time rambling into the microphone as they did playing music. Bad Religion, who’ve been around since 1980 but had their biggest mainstream success in the ’90s, took the stage next to show the (relative) youngsters how it’s done, burning through 17 songs in just under 45 minutes, full of literate social commentary and catchy hooks. “Don’t idealize the 20th century; it wasn’t that great,” singer Greg Graffin said—right before introducing a “selection” of songs from 1988 album Suffer, to the crowd’s great appreciation.

The Offspring played more than a selection of songs from 1994 breakthrough album Smash; the whole concept of the tour was that the band would be playing the album in its entirety, although they bent the rules a little bit, switching the order of some songs in the middle and holding mega-hit “Self-Esteem” to the end, so that the first half of the set could go out on a high note. For a band that has descended into gimmickry in its later years, The Offspring proved they could still bang out a set of fast, efficient pop-punk, with lesser-known Smash tracks like “Genocide” and “Not the One” sounding just as strong as the hits. “I’m not a trendy asshole,” Offspring frontman Dexter Holland sang on the album’s title track, then disproved that assertion during the novelty-heavy hit parade of the set’s second half. Still, for a little while, the punk rock spirit of 1994 was alive and kicking.

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