Published on theMusic.com.au, Feb 2018
Pic by Linda Dunjey
Only half full of bodies and thick with fog radiating from the stage, HBF Stadium resembled a high school gym and gave off the vibe of a ‘90s music video as punters anxiously awaited the arrival of Chicago punk rockers Rise Against.
As soon as the house lights were cut, a wall of bass began wrestling with the crowd’s echoing roar and the stage was set for frontman Tim McIlrath, who had punters in a trance, mimicking his every move.
“Perth, put your fists in the air!” he screamed as the beat slid into the groove of 2006’s Chamber The Cartridge, sans the iconic “this is noise” sample.
Kicking off with material from what’s arguably the band’s best record, the song painted a picture of what would follow; whirlwind punk verses, big choruses and a heavy breakdown, all driven by political lyrics.
Rise Against may be in the touring cycle of 2017’s Wolves, but they weren’t going anywhere near the new material until fans had got their fix of the ‘old stuff’, going even further back with a nostalgic anthem Give It All, McIlrath jumping into the audience to get up-close and personal with fans.
Unable to stand still for even a second, Zach Blair laid down a chunky guitar riff and gave McIlrath a platform for a speech on inclusivity and tolerance, which led to the first new song of the evening, The Violence.
The addition of a second guitar added another level of intensity to the sound bouncing around the venue, which the room struggled to handle; a problem that persisted throughout stadium rock hit Re-Education (Through Labor).
It became clear during that song that the band truly thrive under more raw conditions, with one crisp guitar leaving plenty of room for McIlrath’s pitch-perfect vocals, especially in a room with such terrible acoustics. Fast-past classic Dancing For The Rain and crowd favourite The Good Left Undone were a whirlwind of infectious energy but also fell victim to the terribly muddy room.
Thankfully, their relentless stage presence prevailed and unexpected turns, like an impromptu mid-song cover of Black Flag’s American Waste, rendered more than enough to overcome the issues.
It may be a simple guitar riff, but the intro hook of Prayer Of The Refugee had punters flocking closer to the stage in anticipation of its massive chorus, and it didn’t disappoint. Its octave-driven bridge took the song to a big finish through a series of wild breakdown sections and drummer Brandon Barnes gave a dizzying lesson on punk drumming.
Pulling things back, McIlrath grabbed an acoustic guitar and stood solo onstage, instantly assuming the role of a storytelling troubadour and telling tales of riding from Perth to Fremantle and meeting great people along the way; a fitting transition into People Live Here.
It was the ‘eye of the hurricane’ and he continued with Hero Of War. “Not all my songs are sad — some of them are happy,” he said, quickly backing up the statement with Swing Life Away.
He could have kept the room entertained for hours, but there was still a serious amount of upbeat hits to cycle through, despite one loud ocker bloke mistaking the quiet after the acoustic section for the set’s end and humorously grunting “one more song” in the dark room.
The piercing screams of Help Is On The Way compared to McIlrath’s softer acoustic melodies illustrated just how talented he is as a vocalist and also highlighted the diverse nature of the band’s back catalogue. Blair and bassist Joe Principe also showcased some decent vocal chops in the song’s chorus.
Bricks set in motion another eclectic punk onslaught that carried over into fan favourite Survive; a series of songs that highlighted that, while they are highly political, they’re still connecting with fans on an emotional level.
It was although someone turned the PA up during the Wolves title track and its message of tolerance burned into the memory of those in attendance while sparking a circle put lit by a red spotlight.
One punter’s excitement couldn’t be contained and he scrambled onto the stage during Behind Closed Doors to take a selfie while security grappled with him. “I think the lesson we’ve learned tonight is, if you’re gonna crash the stage, unlock your phone first,” McIlrath laughed.
And with that, the band dished up Satellite and Savior and disappeared, leaving the crowd cheering for them.