The Rise Against show at the Fillmore began with a line that stretched from Colfax down Clarkson and east onto 16th Avenue -- at 6:30! The crowd was littered with people of all ages, from teenyboppers to thirty-somethings to punk foggies, who were most likely there to see punk icons Bad Religion more than Rise Against -- or to bring their kids out to a show.
It's amazing to see how Rise Against has grown over the years. The band's popularity has even eclipsed that of Bad Religion; when I last saw the two play on the same ticket, it was at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., and Bad Religion was headlining.
Rise Against is a great band that's been able to mature with every album while also growing in popularity. But as the bandmembers proved last night, it's stayed true to its roots in terms of delivering politically themed anthemic punk songs with extremely crisp riffs, tight lyrics and a sound that, though heavily influenced by their icons, is still all their own. Moreover, the group proved that it deserves its success.
And it's touring with some impressive acts. Four Year Strong, a Worcester, Massachusetts, pop-punk outfit, opened the evening around 7:30. Originally I was unimpressed by the happycore-ish song the act started off with, as it sounded geared to too young an audience. The band was good, but largely predictable.
As the set progressed, fortunately, the group got heavier. The drummer, Jackson "Jake" Massucco, thumped on the double-bass pedal through songs like "Enemy of the World," all the while keeping a calm, easy look on his face and chomping on a toothpick. Four Year Strong's final song, "Wasting Time (Eternal Summer)," felt like it was targeted at angsty youth heading into their final spring of high school.
Hardcore legends Bad Religion opened with "The Day That the Earth Stalled," the rousing first song off their latest album, 2010's Dissent of Man. Greg Graffin's voice sounded a little off to start, but quickly rose to the occasion. Still, not bad for a band that first formed in 1979.
By the time Graffin and company hit their third song, the classic "American Jesus," if you weren't a fan or had never seen or heard Bad Religion, you would have been converted. The crunchy guitars and chorus weren't enough to drown out Graffin's voice, and this song felt as fresh as it did nearly ten years ago.
But Bad Religion really hit its stride when it launched into "Do What You Want" and then the god-eviscerating "Only Rain." The most enjoyable to hear was "We're Only Gonna Die," one of the band's earliest recorded songs. Bad Religion concluded its set with the upbeat "Sorrow," a great finisher.
During the intermission, you could see just how packed the venue was: Trying to get the bathroom was like trying to walk through chest-high pea-soup. By the time I returned to the floor, the crowd was a veritable beehive of activity, with no one really sure where to go. Rise Against took the stage and launched into "Chamber the Cartridge," the first track off The Sufferer & the Witness. And the guys were off, galloping furiously. From there the group pulled into a set spanning all of its albums, but playing heavily from their recently released Endgame, which was produced in Fort Collins by Bill Stevenson of Descendants fame -- the third such endeavor.
An amazing thing about Rise Against songs is how they can evolve. There's a lot of attention that goes into moving from one space into another within a song while remaining true to the original. It's something that's really prevalent in the new songs, like "Satellite," one of the first few played last night, with this blistering lyric: "We are the orphans of the American dreams."
Tim McIlrath brought in the audience to serve as the choir for "Make It Stop (September's Children)," a song about the tragic suicides of bullied gay teens in September 2010. While Rise Against has always been big on audience participation, it was a great way to pull the audience in to a song, hopefully spurring some to think, without being overtly political or social.
Unsurprisingly, Rise Against preformed all the Endgame songs with the well-rehearsed precision you'd expect with it being a new album. Zach Blair's staccato guitar riffs opening "Help Is on the Way," a song likely about the BP oil spill, was something I was looking forward to hearing live, and I wasn't disappointed.
The set was filled with crisp, radio-ready songs that cater to Rise Against's always growing audience. However, on some of their older songs, like "Black Masks & Gasoline," McIlrath and company seemed a bit shakier, or at least McIlrath's voice sounded weaker and sometimes washed out exactly where you wanted to hear it the most. The band finished with an encore that included "Blood-Red White & Blue," "Ready to Fall" and "Give It All," and left me wanting more. After all, it was only 11 p.m.
Click through for Setlist and Critic's Notebook.
• SETLIST •
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Rise Against 04.15.11 | Fillmore Auditorium Denver, CO
Chamber the Cartridge Satellite The Good Left Undone Like the Angel Re-Education (Through Labor) Survive Make It Stop (September's Children) The Dirt Whispered Help Is On The Way Long Forgotten Sons Prayer of the Refugee Audience of One Architects Savior Swing Life Away (acoustic) Hero of War (acoustic)
ENCORE Entertainment Blood-Red White & Blue Ready to Fall Give It All
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: A show on Friday night should never be over before midnight. Random Detail: Bill Stevenson was was watching from the wings toward the end of the performance. By the Way: It's hard to see a band you saw playing fast and furious nearly a decade ago in small clubs play such a large venue. Some of the things that first attracted you to the band are still there. The tight sounds and speed, but as they've grown they've had broaden their sound for a larger audience, somewhat alienating some of their earliest fans, but choosing to stay true to their focus.