Live review: Rise Against raises some noise
The band hammers its brand of protest into a sold-out crowd, with Bad Religion and the Descendents in tow.
Punk and protest combined in the gnarled hands of two successive generations Thursday night at Long Beach Arena, where Bad Religion and the Descendents appeared in a sold-out concert with Rise Against, the upstart Chicago band that has unabashedly taken up the social conscience and breakneck tempos of its stalwart predecessors.
“It's great to be here celebrating the rise of Rise Against,” said Bad Religion singer Greg Graffin during his group's tidy but powerful opening set. “I remember when they were little kids in their baskets and we took them out on tour. Those days are gone.”
Indeed they are: With a crowd numbering more than 13,000, Thursday's show was Rise Against's biggest-ever headlining date, noted Tim McIlrath, the group's scratchy-voiced frontman; its latest album, “Endgame,” recently debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's sales chart.
On several occasions, McIlrath took pains to describe the creative debt he and his band mates owe Bad Religion, the long-running L.A. group he referred to as “legends.” He also thanked the Descendents for playing — especially, he said, because “they could probably fill this place themselves.”
The older groups' fast-and-loud influence was easy to hear as Rise Against bulldozed through material from “Endgame,” as well as older modern-rock radio hits such as “Ready to Fall” and “Re-Education (Through Labor).”
In “The Dirt Whispered,” a song McIlrath described as being about the need to sacrifice in order to do what you love, lyrics yielded to a Descendents-like chorus of whoa-oh-ohs. Later, a blank white backdrop fell away to reveal an American flag imprinted with an enormous fingerprint: a critique of a perceived security state grown only more restrictive over the years since decades-old Bad Religion albums such as “No Control” and “Against the Grain.”
As energetically as it delivered these messages, though, Rise Against projected virtually none of the charisma required to transform agitprop into art; one song simply followed another in an unchanging lock step that dulled the music's effect.
The lack of personality was especially apparent in comparison to the evening's openers, who deepened their attack with some rhythmic variety and a kind of gallows-humor wit.
Near the end of the band's 90-minute set, McIlrath announced that Thursday's show meant “something way more than entertainment” to Rise Against. It was his introduction to “Entertainment,” from 2008's “Appeal to Reason,” in which the singer rails against the palliative effect of “pretty faces” and “petty fortunes.”
Grave dangers, to be sure. But need the route toward social equity be stripped of all enjoyment?
-- Mikael Wood
Images: Rise Against's Tim McIlrath; Bad Religion's Greg Graffin; The Descendent's Milo Aukerman. Credits: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times