Perhaps to the older, long-standing Rise Against fans among us, it may come as no surprise to hear that notable mosh anthems such as ‘Dancing For Rain’ and ‘Blood – Red, White And Blue’ were omitted in favour of tracks like ‘Audience Of One’ and ‘The Dirt Whispered’ during the band’s November gig at the O2 Academy, in Leeds. Now whether you agree or disagree with RA’s seemingly ever-growing quest for commercial stardom, it’s probably best saving the debate for another time; as far as that night’s performance went, Rise at the very least proved it is still a band with bags of energy and a natural talent for getting the crowd moving, no matter what songs are expected to be played.
Even for the sceptics, RA has a reputation for putting on a damn good show, and personal concerns aside, this was still a gig I was very much looking forward to since the day it was announced. I saw the band live for the first time in Manchester two years previously, and albeit struggling with ill-health and failing to push my way to the front of tightly-knit crowd (something I just about always manage to do at gigs), that night remains prominent in my mind as one of the best live musical experiences of my life.
The band seems to suit the small-to-mid-sized dingy venues much better than the larger arenas, and considering RA is (still), in simple terms, a “punk-rock band”, Leeds’ straightforward, 2300-capacity venue seemed liked the ideal choice to follow on from my first experience and give fans the chance to kick up a sweat on the band’s latest U.K. tour. Along for the ride were American band Polar Bear Club and legendary Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello — the latter of whom told political stories about a group of exploited, Korean guitar-factory workers; learnt newcomers his growing catalogue of mostly sing-along folk anthems; and even teased them with an old RATM electric guitar riff.
With the fists of many crowd members still aloft prior to the lights dimming and Rise’s popular banger ‘Re-Education’ blasting out of the venue’s speakers, there was already a strong sense of anticipation for what was about to occur. Recent singles ‘Satellite’ and ‘Help Is On The Way’ of course inspired mass singalongs, but the biggest surprise (at least for me) of the evening was the performance of one of RA’s immensely-personal tracks, ‘Heaven Knows’, from Revolutions Per Minute. Considering how much this album seems to be neglected by the band in the present day (despite it arguably containing its best work to date), it was incredibly refreshing and encouraging to hear the lads dip into their bag of harder classics and give a rare opportunity for fans to throw themselves around because of it.
In hindsight, RA’s first album, The Unravelling, wasn’t even touched upon, but that has pretty much become the normality for the band nowadays. Frontman McIlrath’s less-raspy, more-polished voice seems more equipped for songs like ‘Architects’ and ‘From Heads Unworthy’ — which, admittedly, he does very well — rather than the screamy nature of older songs like ‘Dead Ringer’ and ‘Torches’. Although on a personal level this night in Leeds didn’t top the one I had in Manchester two years previously, I will say it was still bloody well enjoyable for the band’s evolving, hope-filled optimism that came with Tim, Zach, Joe and Brandon’s collectiveness and considerable amount of stage energy.
About mid-way through the set, lead guitarist Zach Blair went on to admit “Tom Morello is a difficult act to follow” before performing two intimate acoustic renditions of ‘Swing Life Away’ and ‘Hero Of War’ with the help of McIlrath. With sweat literally pouring off the faces of men and women — of all ages — this seemed like the perfect opportunity for fans to really appreciate Blair and McIlrath’s chemistry as guitar players and regain their breath for ten mins, prior to a chaotic near-finale clash of bodies to everyone’s favourites, ‘Ready To Fall’ and ‘Give It All’.
Whether people agreed with the song choices or not, there was a real sense of artist-listener bonding throughout the gig. Blair, particularly, who had a bit of an iffy start with the band, seems to have come on leaps and bounds, and was instrumental (quite literally) in heightening the audience’s enjoyment of the group. Selecting the commercially-friendly ‘Savior’ as the very last song rather than the head-banger ‘State Of The Union’ (which didn’t get played at all), may have been disappointing — particularly to the older RA fans present in the room — but the band still managed to put on a good gig, nonetheless.
(The Nightwatchman: Tom Morello)