No matter what genre you ascribe to the band -- punk, hardcore, plain vanilla rock from people who wear solid black -- Rise Against has always been a bit of a chicken-or-the-angst situation. Would the live show be this good if the crowd didn't pack so much attitude, or is the audience riled up because the concert is just that epic? Although it's occasionally easy to forget the dues they paid to obvious heroes Black Flag and Minor Threat, it's impossible to do so live. While fans adjust the punk logos pinned on their jackets, the band prefers to valiantly assault its inheritance, without rest or apology, inside a venue more than double the size of most any of its forefathers ever played.
To play protest songs like "Make It Stop," which is about suicide in the LGBT community, or "Hero of War," dedicated to soldiers who served in Iraq, anywhere smaller than 1STBANK Center would be to ignore the fact that they are anthems -- penned by predominantly straight edge vegetarians. The guys wear their causes on their sleeves, almost to a corny level, and the result of those ideological scars is betrayed in blistering but painfully earnest waves of sonic rebellion.
Although the Chicago band (drummer Brandon Barnes is from Colorado) earned its keep in smaller Denver venues such as the Bluebird and the Ogden on past trips to the city, the eventual night spent working the 1STBANK Center into a tizzy feels inevitable. It also feels pretty good. If you're ever in need of catharsis, venture no further than the live show of a punk band formed in 1999.
"Every time we come, you guys multiply," lead singer Tim McIlrath told the crowd. "We don't forget that." The guys don't forget anything: Although their brazen, dramatic rock posturing looks and sounds like it holds a grudge, the band members themselves have oiled every cue, every flare of the lights, every drum or guitar solo, every opportunity to jump on an amp so smoothly that the result is a small but very angry circus. The set began as a sing-a-long -- McIlrath asked the audience to share in the lyric load before he even started shouting -- and it ended as one, if you fell outside the constituency that left before the encore to meet its curfew back home.
Rise Against's live show is large, loud and devout, but the sound that backs it is unadulterated, undiluted meat-and-potatoes rock and roll. No instrument serves an extraneous purpose, no guitar is turned lower than max volume, and no rotating light is set below seizure level. And if McIlrath occasionally wobbles, no one gives a shit. In this classic equation, the meat is McIlrath's growl, one so visceral it frenzies both tempos and heartbeats in its quest to unsettle the masses.
This was particularly easy following middling sets from hometown heroes Air Dubai and Flobots: Although the night swelled with Colorado pride (Rise Against sounded almost apologetic that only one fourth of its ranks hails from the area), it was not met with much to show for itself. Both Air Dubai and its politically-driven successor, Flobots (added to the bill to replace Flogging Molly), missed cues, crescendos and much of the overwhelming motivation that should proceed a Rise Against set with sloppier sets than both are known for. In most regards, the night's core stimulation started and ended with its headliner.
Even unaccompanied, as McIlrath was for two songs he played acoustic and alone, his voice is accusing. To listen to it is to subscribe to what it's saying -- messages of revolution and change and nostalgia that would be inspiring if they weren't also fearlessly depressing. When his band joined McIlrath again at the end of "Hero of War," the act felt like a betrayal: How dare you interrupt this moment all several thousands of us are each having one-on-one with your singer? Butt out.
But you can't end a punk show with an acoustic guitar. Instead, Rise Against opted for a rage, one in which McIlrath launched his open water bottle at the crowd, traveled the span of every amp on the stage, and bleated "I don't hate you" repeatedly at the crowd before taking a step back and concluding the lyrics of "Savior." This is, after all, a crowd with so many young exceptions that he was earlier forced to preach against "school" and "parents" in addition to the classic "work." How much is the band really prepared to give these guys?
The answer: Everything.
Personal Bias: I'm what is best described as a concert convert. I've never been a huge Rise Against fan, but as the rad thirteen year old standing next to me repeatedly reinforced, live "they rock." By the Way: I'm pretty sure every single dude I had a crush on in middle school was at this show. (Some of them, apparently, are still in middle school.) Random Detail: Word for the concert-wise: As much as you might be attracted to its color, flare and general impressiveness, do not, under any circumstances, stand next to someone with a six-inch pink Mohawk. You will spend the rest of the night engaged in an accidental Japanese fan dance. You will lose.
Rise Against 12/7/11 - 1STBANK Center Broomfield, CO
01. "Re-Education (Through Labor)" 02. "Satellite" 03. "The Good Left Undone" 04. "Heaven Knows" 05. "Chamber the Cartridge" 06. "Survive" 07. "Make It Stop (September's Children)" 08. "The Dirt Whispered" (dedicated to Flobots) 09. "Help Is on the Way" 10. "From Heads Unworthy" 11. "Prayer of the Refugee" 12. "Swing Life Away" (McIlrath solo acoustic) 13. "Hero Of War" (McIlrath solo acoustic) 14. "Audience of One" 15. "Architects" 16. "Ready to Fall"
17. "Give It All" 18. "Savior"
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