Rise Against’s “Nowhere Generation” Tour Brings Communal Joy To FivePoint Amphitheatre
IRVINE, CA- I got my first taste of Rise Against back in back in 2006. I’m a softy at heart, so my introduction to them was Tim McIlrath’s acoustic recording of the ballad “Swing Life Away”. Though that song wasn’t indicative of the hardcore punk they were, at the time, recording, it did throw me down into an internet rabbit hole where I learned about, and admired, their straight-edge ethos and conviction of political and social consciousness. Their platinum albums The Sufferer & the Witness (2006) and Appeal to Reason (2008) cemented their positions as mainstay headliners, and they’ve consistently given their fans fast and hard-hitting tempos with extremely hummable hooks/choruses, focusing the subject matter of their albums on the mood of the times.
Their latest release, Nowhere Generation, their ninth studio album, hits their modus operandi in stride, replete with social commentary and their blistering, undimmed sound. This time around, Rise Against questions the “American Dream”. In an interview with Alternative Press, Tim McGilrath, their lead singer, states:
“Today there is the promise of the American Dream, and then there is the reality of the American Dream. America’s ‘historical norm’ that the next generation will be better off than the one that came before has been diminished by an era of mass social, economic, and political instability and a sell-out of the middle class. The brass ring that was promised by hard work and dedication no longer exists for everyone. When the privileged climb the ladder of success and then burn it from the top, disruption becomes the only answer.”
That message hits home with the first lyrics of the album’s title track:
“We are the nowhere generation
We are the kids that no one wants
We are a credible threat to the rules you set
A cause to be alarmed”
The anger and frustration, highlighted with the thumping drums of Brandon Barnes and the relentless shredding of Zach Blair, is on full display through the album’s 11 tracks. Tim’s vocals are in good form on this record as he effortlessly sings each track’s melody with focused confidence. While there’s nothing particularly surprising in this collection of songs, as they stay true to their roots, it’s probably what their fans crave most during these crazy and unpredictable times: steadiness.
The Menzingers are a fantastically fun band. Like Rise Against, their pop-punk offerings focus a lot on melody, and they infuse their recordings and live performance with palpable youthful energy.
The Menzingers consist of co-frontmen Tom May (vocals, guitar) and Greg Barnett (vocals, guitar) bassist Eric Keen and drummer Joe Godino, and they released an album 2019, Hello Exile, but were unable to support the album with a tour because of the COVID-19 pandemic. During their time in isolation, they decided to record a new album revisiting the songs from Hello Exile and giving all of the tracks a facelift with different arrangements, and even some new lyrics. I guess it’s kind of a remix album.
I had a ton of fun catching these guys live again. Though it was a short set (7 songs…I think), their set seemed to span their entire repertoire. They opened their set with the opening track off their Hello Exile/From Exile release, “America (You’re Freaking Me Out)”- though I can’t remember which version they played- which kind of set the thematic tone for Rise Against, even if you weren’t paying too much attention to it.
Some of the songs that I recognized were “House On Fire” and “Lookers”. When they got into the opening riff of “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore”, even though I was sequestered far from the stage as a photographer, a huge smile crept onto my face. At that moment I wished I didn’t have tons of camera weight on my body so I could run to the pit and bump into a few bodies. Such a fun song.
This is probably the 4th or 5th time I’ve seen Descendents perform live, and I’m surprised that this was the first time I’ve been able to photograph them doing their thing.
Descendents are a staple of the punk rock genre. Formed in 1977 in Manhattan Beach, CA, and have been performing with singer Milo Aukerman, guitarist Stephen Egerton, bassist Karl Alvarez, and drummer Bill Stevenson since 1986. While Milo’s voice may not be as tenor as the Milo Goes To College days, they still deliver a live show that should make any teenage wannabe rocker green with envy.
Right from the jump, when Milo took the stage on what appeared to be a souped-up, red, lowriding bicycle, you could feel the youthful energy The Menzingers instilled reabsorb itself onto the stage. With his trademark glasses, Milo started to spit out the frenetic lyrics to a massive 21 song setlist [peep the photo gallery in Descendent’s photo gallery to check it out!]. Now, keep in mind that. a lot of Descendents repertoire clocks in at under two minutes per cut, but that’s still an impressive feat to float almost instantly from one song to another.
What’s even more impressive is how catchy all of Descendents’ songs still are. “I’m The One”, “Everything Sux”, Suburban Home’… I mean, those songs could easily be extended into 4-minute versions and we’d all still be singing along with the hooks. Descendents released a new album earlier this year, 9th & Walnut, but they only played 3 songs from that album, opening their set with the opening track of their new album (“Sailor’s Choice”) inserting “Night” and “Like The Way I Know” along the way.
After invigorating sets by The Menzigers and Descendents, the crowd was well lubricated for Rise Against’s featured performance.
The performance itself was virtually flawless. McIlrath’s vocals soared when he wailed into his upper register. The tour may have been well into a month, but there were no signs of any wear on his voice. I felt that Zach Blair was particularly good on this night, as every riff seemed to demand attention. The spotlights that silhouetted him also gave his performance a very dramatic effect. Rise Against is a well-oiled machine. They are all clearly in a sonic comfort zone that gives the audience a top-notch aural experience as they ripped through their hits (“Re-Education”, “The Violence”, “Give It All”, “Make It Stop”, etc”)
To my surprise, however, Rise Against didn’t perform that many songs off their new album. For an album that debuted at the top of multiple Billboard charts with its first week sales (#1 on Rock, #2 on the Hard Rock Albums, #3 on Top Current Albums, #3 on Vinyl, and the Top 40 of the Top 200), I expected to hear a large chunk, even a majority, of their set to be songs off the new release. In fact, they only performed 4 songs off the new album (“The Numbers”, “Nowhere Generation”, “Broken Dreams, Inc.”, and “Forfeit”).
But perhaps, that was intentional. Perhaps they knew, given the times, that it would probably be better to give their fans more of the familiar. If that was their thinking, I think it paid off in dividends.
Every hit that they performed, I was surrounded by voices singing along with McIlrath. Choruses crescendoed when thousands of voices screamed out lyrics in unison with arms raised into the open air. That kind of power over an audience is rare, and it speaks volumes to Rise Against’s fan base. Perhaps the most amusing part of the evening for me was when was McIlrath did a two-song acoustic set and performed “Swing Life Away”. The number of female voices around me singing the lines “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours first” brought a smile to my face every time it was sung.
It’s the familiarity of the lyrics… the familiarity of the music… and the crowd, en masse, revelling in that communal joy after months of Covid-fear… I think that’s what really made this evening with Rise Against that much more special.
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