Report: Rise Against/Bad Religion Live in DC

 

Still righteous, still
dreaming: two punk icons, one older, one younger, torch the 9:30 Club on April
26 in the nation’s capitol.

 

By Roxana Hadadi / Photos By Adam Fried

Punk
rock has a conscience, and Bad Religion and Rise Against are its champions. At
a sold-out show April 26 at the 9:30 Club, members of Bad Religion (the
established guard) and Rise Against (the new generation) encouraged audience
members to stand up for themselves and defend their beliefs. Politics was front
and center for each group, but how they handled delivering their messages
couldn’t be more different. 

 

For
Bad Religion, a band doing this music thing for decades now, its 40-minute set
was full of grins and good cheer, a confident affair that oozed with years of
experience. For Rise Against, a band at the top of its game, its 90 minutes
were full of explosive singles and riotous sing-alongs from frenzied fans. The
two groups had been at the 9:30 Club five years before, too, but in reversed
roles: Rise Against opening for Bad Religion, not the other way around. How the
times have changed.

 

Is
Bad Religion bitter, though? That’s not really the band’s style. Instead, lead
singer Greg Graffin was glowing with pride when speaking about Rise Against’s
meteoric rise the past few years, describing it as a phenomenal “ascent.” Bad
Religion, though, Graffin said, was more about the “dissent … of man,” performing
nearly 20 songs from the band’s 15 albums, including 2010’s The Dissent of Man. Graffin has a Ph.D.
from Cornell University; of course he was making a
play on words when he said “dissent” and could have meant “descent.” He’s
clever! He’s a science professor! Duh!

 

 

 

 

Things
started for Bad Religion after an opening set by Massachusetts pop punk band
Four Year Strong, whose fans immediately started a mosh pit barely two songs
into the group’s seven-song stint. In a nutshell, Four Year Strong screamed a
lot and spit onstage and generally did the super-cool things most hardcore-lite
bands do. After that somewhat contrived opener, Bad Religion swept in with a
prevailing sense of ease – with no preamble, launching into five songs before
taking a break to chat with the audience. First there were “The Day that the
Earth Stalled” and “Wrong Way Kids” from The
Dissent of Man
, then classic “American Jesus” from 1993’s Recipe for Hate, and finally “Before You
Die” from 2007’s New Maps of Hell and
“Let Them Eat War” from 2004’s The Empire
Strikes First
.

 

Graffin,
bassist Jay Bentley, guitarists Brian Baker and Greg Hetson and drummer Brooks
Wackerman were certainly jumping around their discography – and onstage; Hetson
especially was like a frenetic maniac gymnast – but they weren’t irked when
nearly two-thirds of the audience admitted they hadn’t seen Bad Religion
before. Instead, Graffin encouraged the Bad Religion fans in the audience to
take care of everyone else – “We depend on you to help out the newbies. … Keep
the tradition alive” – and jumped right back into performing. There was “The
Resist Stance,” about being aware of the dangerous nature of politics (“It’s a
dangerous slip/ A conscientious shift/ In the spirit of resistance, you gotta
hold your grip/ Because passion unabated will be readily conflated with
belligerence”); “Cyanide,” about a twisted relationship (“The road to you is
paved right through/ With bloody good intentions/ And missing you is like
kissing cyanide”); and “Meeting of the Minds,” about finding your own morality
(“At the meeting of the minds/ Reading of the times/ Open the blinds to our
complicated times/ We all need some kind of creed to lead us to light”).

 

It
all sounds pretty serious, but Bad Religion joked around, too, ribbing Washington, D.C., about
its residents’ financial security (“Tomorrow we got a show in Baltimore. They’re struggling up there –
you’re obviously not struggling down here in the nation’s capital.”), grinning
and cracking jokes with each other during “Fuck Armageddon, This is Hell” and
“Los Angeles is Burning” and finishing the set with a rousing performance of
single “Sorrow” from 2002’s The Process
of Belief
. Maybe not everyone at the show had seen Bad Religion before, but
they picked up enough of the “There will be sorrow/ Yeah, there will be sorrow/
And there will be sorrow no more” chorus to wholeheartedly chime in. The elder
statesmen just made it look so easy.

 

 

 

 

 

A
half-hour later, Rise Against made it seem effortless, too, even though the
band’s 20-song set was sometimes stalled by brief pauses as the group moved
around on- and offstage. The set started off militant and stayed that way,
though: The group took the stage to chants of “Rise!” and a blaze of lights,
setting the supportive tone early with “Chamber the Cartridge” – “Can we be
saved? Has the damage all been done?” lead singer Tim McIlrath spit as he leapt
around. “Is it too late to reserve what we’ve become?/ A lesson to learn at a
crucial point in time/ What’s mine was always yours and yours is mine.”

 

Most
of Rise Against’s songs either deal with galvanizing youth into protest or
wistfully looking back at the past, so it’s no surprise McIlrath, bassist Joe
Principe, guitarist Zach Blair and drummer Brandon Barnes stuck to those themes
with the next few songs: “Satellite” from March’s Endgame (“Because we won’t back down/ We won’t run and hide”);
single “The Good Left Undone” from 2006’s The
Sufferer & the Witness
(“I’ll follow your voice/ All you have to do is
shout it out” had audiences in a moshing blur); and “Heaven Knows” from 2003’s Revolutions per Minute (“I thought I
heard your voice but I thought wrong/ ‘Cause you’re not there anymore/ No
you’re not there anymore”).

 

McIlrath
had the audience in the palm of his head, and he used that attention to give
them some confidence back: “A lot has happened to every single one of you in
this room. … Tonight, right here, this moment … that makes you a survivor. You
survived all that shit,” McIlrath said. Praising words like that (and some for
Bad Religion, too: “Without bands like Bad Religion … bands like Rise Against
wouldn’t even be here”) continued throughout the set, as the crowd rejoiced
most during singles – “Re-Education (Through Labor),” “Help is on the Way,”
“Prayer of the Refugee.” The audience only calmed down for an acoustic version
of “Swing Life Away” and the heartbreaking “Hero of War,” which McIlrath
pointed out isn’t “the story of all soldiers, but it is the story of one.”
During the weary tale of a soldier who loses his soul, the place was quieter
than it would be all night.

 

But
then there was “Ready to Fall,” and old cut “Blood-Red White & Blue,” and
“Savior” and “Give It All” – and the crowd was energetic and rowdy once more.
“Maybe, just maybe, tonight is something more than entertainment,” McIlrath suggested.
Maybe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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