Rise Against at Riot Fest 2012 | Photos and live music review
I'm not usually one to belabor the definition of "punk," but to me, most punk bands wouldn’t want shirtless dudes comparing bicep sizes with one another in their crowds. My friends and I got into the genre to escape that type of thing. "Not bad for a skinny guy," said one young jock to the other. I actually saw that tonight at Rise Against, along with thousands of other bros in plaid shorts and fitted caps, flexing and headbanging like it was Bally Fitness Fest. At one point, frontman Tim McIlrath thanked the old punks for sticking around, and I scanned the crowd for a single person pushing thirty: goose egg. At twenty-two, I felt forty-eight in that crowd. At one point, the audience just started clapping to the beat in unison midway through a more popular number. The song was still going full throttle, mid-verse, not during a bridge or anything. It made no sense. You only do that when drums cut out. Levels of confusion swirled and rose around me like a vortex of creatine and lacrosse pinnies.
The band’s older material fell flat on a young audience, and felt sloppy. This is a band that has found its niche in young and impressionable listeners, with tempo being the only thing separating the music from near-Daughtry levels of unlistenable radio rock. Oh, and that political business they've somehow managed to retain: Rise Against walked onstage to epic, movie-score intro music and a truly absurd four-screen montage of suffering third world children and other ostensibly political images. It was the first time I'd ever seen a guitarist in fitted jeans do a kung fu leap onstage with a giant photo of a starving African child behind him. Let's hope it's the last. Early in the set, McIlrath spouted some support for the Chicago Teacher’s Union as well, shouting, “It’s not about fucking money! It’s about the future of this fucking country!” Thirty thousand drunks were stoked. It’s not just about the music, man.
Before their last couple of songs, McIlrath’s band left him to cover No Use for a Name’s “For Fiona,” a nice tribute to the late Tony Sly. It was one of a few moments in the set where Rise Against’s headlining slot at Riot Fest made sense. Immediately thereafter was the clear highlight, a cover of Black Flag’s “Jealous Again” bolstered by Milo Aukerman on vocals and Bill Stevenson on—surprise—guitar! A good Black Flag cover is almost always welcome, especially considering how almost any band can play those songs more tightly than the originals. Cheers to that one. But it didn’t make up for how painfully over-the-top and corny the rest of the set was. Rise Against is becoming the U2 of their genre, whatever that may be. This is flashy arena rock for people who like their music with a pat on the back for standing in the name of… something. Peace? Justice? I don’t know. “I’m happy that Riot Fest has turned into this huge fucking monster,” said McIlrath at the end of the set. It takes one to know one, I guess.