Rise Against review – philosophical punks stand up to racism and misogyny

02 Academy, Leeds
Frontman Tim McIlrath laments the death of the American dream with old-fashioned showmanship – and occasionally compromised songwriting

In Chicago in 1999, when singer Tim McIlrath was starting the band that became Rise Against, he decided that he would sing about what he wanted to, whether or not anyone ever got to hear him. He needn’t have fretted. From melodic hardcore beginnings on a small label, the four black-clad mature men are now one of the biggest punk(ish) bands in the US, with a global fanbase who, here, instantly take up the 39-year-old frontman’s chant of “Rise! Rise!”

If this momentarily sounds like a call to a revolution, rather than the beginning of a rock gig, it’s just the start of the old-fashioned showmanship with which Rise Against have made their name. McIlrath stands on the monitor and uses a megaphone; guitarists crisscross the stage. It’s not punk as British audiences know it, but it’s certainly a spectacle.

Their music, too, has gradually adopted pop-punk and mainstream rock tropes. Those big chunky riffs could work for Bryan Adams. There are “whoa whoa”s and even hair-metal twiddly-widdly noodling. An acoustic section allows McIlrath to unleash his inner singer-songwriter, with stirring, slightly earnest anthems reminiscent of an American Noel Gallagher.

Although punk is never short of straight edge – vegan singers who sing, shout and scream about the rights of both humans and animals – McIlrath is more philosophical than most. He has some deep, hippyish talk about the “mysteries inside us” and the choices we must make. It’s a shame that his candid admission that “after 20 years, the flights don’t get any shorter” is followed by a clunking cliche: “You guys make it all worthwhile.”

Perhaps big strokes and compromises have allowed him to have a platform, but it’s a relief to hear him talk more passionately and specifically, referring to the “monster” on the rise in the US, sincerely dedicating Survive to fallen peers Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, and urging his flock to fight racism and sexism.

In song, he never lets up, raging about the planet on Ready to Fall and urging humans to control our baser urges in The Violence. When the entire crowd sing along to McIlrath’s words about “the orphans of the American dream” in Satellite, it’s undeniably rousing, even moving. Perhaps that young musician who just wanted to shout at the world about how he was feeling was on to something after all.

• At the Academy, Dublin, 6 November. Box office: 0818 719 300. Then at 02 Academy, Newcastle, 8 November. Box office: 0333 321 9990.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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