at the mike on Friday night at UIC Pavilion. (John J. Kim/Sun-Times)
The drum circles made a racket and the human microphone actually worked (actually worked, actually worked), but many have wondered: Where was the protest music of 2011, the year of the protestor?
Of course, no one asked that question who saw a ticketed or impromptu performance by Chicago punk band Rise Against, which has spent the last year furiously working a fresh body of songs screaming for attention to society's ills -- all of which they unleashed in a barrage Friday night at the UIC Pavilion.
In March 2011, the band issued its fifth album, "Endgame," a concept album that attempts to forestall the political perils of a post-apocalyptic tomorrow by considering the consequences today. The band has a song for the Occupy movement ("Disparity by Design"), a song for anti-homophobia campaigns ("Make It Stop," featuring a video made at Rolling Meadows High School), and a year ago singer Tim McIlrath was playing songs for pro-union marchers outside the Wisconsin state capitol. Last week, the band showed up with one of the hardest-hitting Bob Dylan covers, "Ballad of Hollis Brown," on a tribute compilation for Amnesty International.
It's as if the times finally caught up to the subjects Rise Against has been railing against since forming in 1999.
Hardly just another punk band with good thrash and middle fingers thrust toward the establishment, the members of Rise Against -- McIlrath, guitarist Zach Blair, bassist Joe Principe and drummer Brandon Barnes -- have walked their politics like they squawk them since forming here in 1999. In a 2008 song, "Collapse (Post-Amerika)," McIlrath insists, "There is no middle ground, no compromise / We've drawn the line." Their line has always been clear.
They played that song early in their Friday concert at the Univ. of Illinois-Chicago, a hometown stop on a winter tour of college arenas. The band's stances were stark and bold, merciless in amplified sound and lyrical tone. LED screens showed Wisconsin protestors and kids pleading not to be bullied. Not wanting for energy, Blair leaped onto monitors and scissor-kicked off again from the opening "Survivor Guilt" to the encore of "Savior." The pummeling riffs and hoarse screaming let up only for a couple of acoustic numbers ("Audience of One," "Swing Life Away") during the 90-minute set.
The encore fizzled when a fan was knocked out in the area of a slam pit that developed on the general-admission floor. McIlrath noticed the commotion and stopped the show while EMTs got a stretcher to the victim. "No one comes here to get hurt," he said upon resuming. "We all come here to be part of a family." Then, a few seconds later, Principe was hit in the head with a flying shoe.
Friday was a milestone in many respects. McIlrath introduced "Broken English," saying, "This is for anyone who saw us at the Fireside Bowl." He later acknowledged how much the band has grown as reflected in its hometown venues, from the Congress Theater and the Aragon Ballroom to this pavilion. "Tonight," he said, "is Rise Against's biggest show in Chicago ever." The Pavilion barely contained them. Next stop United Center?
Rise Against's set list Friday night:
"Ready to Fall"
"The Good Left Undone"
"Help Is on the Way"
"Disparity by Design"
"Re-Education (Through Labor)"
"Blood to Bleed"
"Prayer of the Refugee"
"Audience of One"
"Swing Life Away"
"Make It Stop (September's Children)"
"Give It All"
"The Strength to Go On"