At the Pacific Coliseum, on Thursday, June 5
Okay, maybe it’s time for a reality check. What, exactly, has some 45 years of shrewdly promoted protest music actually achieved? Has it slowed down the malignant progress of American imperialism, say? How about corporatism? And what would a painfully worthy band like Rise Against do without a war or two to bellow about, anyway, or Interscope to sell hardcore all the way into the mainstream?
It’s entertainment, stealth-marketed to your conscience, but it’s nothing that’ll ever bring an end to torture. Then again, some might say that “entertainment” and “torture” are indivisible once Rise Against hits the stage.
The 5,000 or so steaming kids in attendance at the Coliseum, word-perfect for the entire 75 minutes or so of the Chicago four-piece’s set, will naturally disagree. And that’s cool. The Coliseum was shuddering from the noise, the heat, and the gravitational pull of a monster circle pit.
But if you happened to be the one guy in attendance not in love with the band’s excruciatingly overlong last album, Appeal to Reason—or any of its albums, for that matter—then Rise Against delivered an excruciatingly overlong tour-opener.
At least there were no speeches. Aside from a few shout-outs here and a few “thanks to social workers” there (it’s a long story), vocalist-guitarist Tim McIlrath let message-heavy numbers like “Collapse (Post-Amerika”) do the talking. His very presence, mind you, telegraphed the man’s crushing sincerity like some kind of blaring body semaphore.
Musically speaking, Rise Against relies almost entirely on dynamics, suffocatingly tight in their delivery and hopelessly muddy in a place like the Coliseum. Hookier numbers like “Re-Education (Through Labour)”, crowd fave “Paper Wings”, and the even bigger crowd fave “Savior” fared better. Gut-pounders like “State of the Union” seemed to disintegrate right before our ears.
Naturally, McIlrath’s much-heralded acoustic rumination on Iraq, “Hero of War”, turned up in the encore. Tour partner Rancid—opening for Rise Against these days, thanks to the brute realities of the market, but nonetheless looking happier than hell on a cramped stage—has a similar number called “Civilian Ways”. It’s on the new album Let the Dominoes Fall, which happens to find the band still in possession of the kind of bounce and spirit Rise Against can only dream about.
Rancid also has infinitely broader range, with new(ish) drummer Branden Steineckert stepping lightly through the finicky ska of “Timebomb”, and both vocalist-guitarist Tim Armstrong and bassist Matt Freeman throwing soulful licks and falsetto backups into “Bloodclot”.
But mostly there’s a sense of joy in Rancid’s music, no matter how hard-bitten it might seem. New song “East Bay Night” is the perfect example, with its yob’s chorus celebrating friends and family, or its line about seeing “San Francisco Bay, and Alcatraz over the landfill” somehow saying so much more about modern America than all of the headliner’s hand-wringing.
And where Rancid’s “Civilian Ways” made its point though the sheer character of Tim Armstrong’s songwriting, Rise Against dimmed the lights for “Hero of War”, and offered up pretty pictures of white actors dressed in fatigues soulfully bashing their fists on walls.
If you’re not already enraged by illegal wars, Rise Against has some exquisite cinematography to goose your emotions into gear. They’re fake emotions, but c’mon—that’s showbiz.