by Helen M. Ryan
The vortex swirled. On the floor in front of the band a big circle opened up. People ran and danced around it, faster and faster. One lone man stood in the middle, arms raised, mesmerized by the band on stage in front of him. Music pounded hard and loud as Rise Against played their tales of social injustice to the excited, frenzied crowd. And the vortex continued to grow.
Rise Against headlined an energetic four-band bill at San Diego’s Cox Arena. The bands, which included Gaslight Anthem, Thrice, and Alkaline Trio, were all punk-inspired. Rise Against took charge of the enthralled audience from the moment they got on stage and never let go. Intensity flowed, driving the band from one hard-hitting song to another. Poised in front of a curtain emblazoned with huge block letters that simply stated RISE, the band played to a receptive, mostly younger audience that seemed to know exactly what they were rising against. There was no break in the action until the acoustic “Swing Life Away” had the entire arena on their feet, slowly waving their lit cell phones and singing along. “Hero of War”, a moving, acoustical examination of war from a soldier’s perspective, followed before the band revved the show back up again.
Social injustice, war, equality and poverty are issues often touched upon in the band’s music, and there was no lack of sociopolitical commentary both musically and verbally. The evening’s set list spanned their albums and touched briefly on the artists’ newest release, Appeal to Reason.
Though often touted as a political band, the decade-old Rise Against feels they are more common sense than political. They see their music as “appealing to reason”, hence the title of their 2008 album. Appeal to Reason is less punk than previous releases, allowing the band to draw from a wider fan base.
Rise Against hopes to use their fame for good. The Chicago band’s four members, Tim McIlrath (vocals, guitar), Joe Principe (bass guitar), Brandon Barnes (drums), and Zach Blair (guitar) are highly committed to social issues. All are vegans, supporters of PETA (whose literature was on display at the concert at Cox Arena), and concerned with environmental issues. None of the band members wear leather, and are endorsing Vans’ new all-vegan shoe. They released an uncut video of their song, “Ready to Fall”, on PETA’s web site. This video, which the band says is the “most important video Rise Against has ever made”, portrays graphic animal cruelty and environmental destruction.
Crossing over towards mainstream, though possibly not the band’s intention, can only benefit Rise Against and their social concerns by expanding their core audience and reach. The punk flavor is still all-present in their music, but the fans enjoy the some of the softer sounds, too. Either way they play it, their message is not lost. As the tour continues on its run through March of 2009, there will be many more lives to impact, people to wake up and human vortexes to generate.
For more information on Rise Against, please visit www.riseagainst.com