Since forming in 1999, Chicago hardcore punk protagonists turned arena fillers Rise Against have established a reputation as a can’t miss act in a live environment. After witnessing them own the stage at their largest ever Australian headline date at Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena I can attest that reputation is well and truly deserved, for this was a punk-rock masterclass.
Melbourne’s Outright opened proceedings. Fronted by the gravel throated force of nature fans Jelena, Outright’s passionate PMA hardcore anthems sounded heavier than ever as crushing rhythms pulsated throughout the arena ensuring the blood was pumping through the legs of the few hundred early arrivals who had managed to find the one entrance Oprah’s security detail allowed to be allocated to the show (she was next door at Rod Laver being Oprah or something).
Encouragingly considering the amount of men in the room the biggest pop of the set came when Jelena dedicated A City Silent to the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. A band with a definitive sound and message, Outright once again proved themselves to be one of the nation’s finest and most inspirational hardcore bands.
Clowns took the stage next and the excitable scuzz-punks wasted no time taking things to a whole new level of insanity. Enigmatic vocalist Stevie was a ball of frenetic energy as he threw himself headfirst into the pit in the very first song, causing pandemonium, he sang on top of and then within the pit, as his band mates tore it up onstage. Cuts from Bad Blood flowed thick and fast with Figure It Out and Never Enough with closer These Veins ensuring the pit remained (much like Stevie) in state of perpetual motion, leaving some of the more docile Rise Against fans (the Triple M crowd?), looking equal parts enthralled and perplexed.
The amount of bodies climbing over each other for a chance to shout in Stevie’s microphone on old favourite Repeat After Me and Dead In The Suburbs serving as proof that their hectic touring schedule is translating into quite an active fanbase, one that no doubt expanded on the strength of their performance tonight.
Rise Against stormed onto the stage greeted by thousands of pumping fists screaming ‘Rise Against, Rise Against’ and launched into a spirited rendition of recent single The Great Die Off before powering through a set of hits and fan favourites that had the audience singing along at the top of their voices for its entirety. Vocalist/guitarist Tim McIlrath and co are equal parts grizzled road veterans and excitable entertainers and that duality shows as they worked their way through songs from 6 of their 7 full-length records (debut The Unravelling not represented tonight) cleverly interjecting newer tracks like Satellite and rock radio staple Help Is On The Way, amidst older Prayer of the Refugee and Give It All (which inspires absolute chaos in the pit with as many as four circle pits operating at once) and even Blood-Red, White and Blue (from 2001’s Revolutions Per Minute)
A lot has been said about Rise Against’s transition to a more radio-friendly sound, with many older fans criticising some of the band’s decisions, but in a live environment the difference between records isn’t all that evident, what is evident is how many freaking punk rock anthems Rise Against have penned over the years, and as they worked their way through tracks the quality of Re-Education (Through Labor), Ready To Fall and the moving anti-homophobia/transphobia anthem Make It Stop (September’s Children) the songwriting quality, infectious energy and genuine nature of both the band and their fans resulted in a special aura of inclusion and acceptance.
Ironically given the bombastic nature of Rise Against the night’s true highlight came in the first of two encores, when Tim came out with an acoustic guitar and played a cover of Australian legends Redgum’s iconic I Was Only 19 followed by a tender rendition of Swing Life Away that had many in the arena shedding a tear or two and all singing along, before the rest of the band rejoined Tim to thrash through stellar versions of Dancing For Rain and Savior to send us out into the night on a monster musical high.
Gallery: Rise Against + Clowns, Outright – Melbourne / Pics By Nikki Williams