Led Zeppelin used "The Ocean" as a metaphor for their live audience ("Singing to the ocean...). Friday night at the U.I.C. Pavilion, Tim McIlrath sang out to the ocean in what is likely Rise Against's largest headlining appearance in Chicago thus far. For just over an hour and a half Friday, the give and take between band and fan was impressive capping another homecoming for one of the city's biggest groups.
But before I get into the music, it's important to commend the crowd on their tolerance for what is absolutely, without a doubt, the worst concert venue in the city of Chicago: The U.I.C. Pavilion.
I will say one positive thing about the venue: Security at the rail was helping crowd surfers down and escorting them back to the floor instead of dragging them down or beating them senseless. So that was nice to see.
But other than that, the venue was awful. Last night's show was not sold out. The Pavilion was pretty full. But it wasn't sold out. Yet, traversing the concourse was like trying to navigate the Kennedy Expressway in the middle of rush hour during a blizzard on a Friday afternoon. Foot traffic was at a standstill. It took me fifteen minutes to move along the concourse from section 110 to section 116. That's a not a large area to cover. The crowd was starting to get restless as we stood, packed like sardines, literally not moving for minutes at a time. Luckily things never escalated beyond mere pushing forward but by the time I finally made it to my seat, I couldn't help but feel like I just left a mosh pit despite having never entered the general admission, arena floor.
The sound was less than stellar, the bathroom outside section 114 overflowed so far it almost reached the concourse and beers were $8.50 each. Other than that, I really enjoyed the U.I.C. Pavilion.
But onto the music! I can't help but come back to Zeppelin's portrayal of an audience as "the ocean." Sitting with a straight shot down onto the floor, it was as at least as entertaining at times to watch the floor as it was to watch the band onstage. And I don't say that to short Rise Against (who were great). I say it to emphasize just how insane this crowd went pretty much from start to finish (unfortunately, we'll be coming back to this).
The band set the bar high for energy and fast pace straight out of the gate opening with "Survivor Guilt" from their latest release Endgame. Barely stopping, the band continued straight into 2006's "Ready to Fall" seguing again directly into "Collapse (Post Amerika)."
And this is a great example of the give and take between artist/audience that I noted earlier. As Rise Against continued to up the ante with each song, the crowd responded as the entire floor appeared to be up for grabs during "Collapse." Frontman Tim McIlrath jettisoned across the stage, channeling The Who's Roger Daltrey as he swung the mic with reckless abandon. Bassist Joe Principe (clad in an OFF! t-shirt for the record) propelled the song and one of the band's tightest performances of the night.
What struck me repeatedly about Rise Against was their modesty as they thanked the crowd graciously and repeatedly. "We come here to places like this, to rooms like these for one reason: that's because of you!" said McIlrath. "This one's for anyone that saw us at the Fireside Bowl!" the singer added as the band launched into "Broken English" from 2003's Revolutions Per Minute.
What I found interesting about the show was illustrated by the band's performance of "Broken English." From an independent release, the song is the type of older deep cut that generally goes over well in the live setting. But Friday night the crowd response was merely tepid. People didn't recognize it. Make no mistake, it was without a doubt the newer material that the majority of fans were there to see (whether that rankles hardcore fans or not). "Help is on the Way" (from Endgame) followed up "Broken English" and the crowd was again worked back into a frenzy.
Rise Against is a band very much in the moment, delivering their often political message amidst timely, poignant songs. They're intelligent and they're active and it's refreshing to see the way more and more fans continue to respond to their music.
Later, McIlrath took a show of hands asking the crowd who was at their first Rise Against show... The result was astounding with the majority in attendance holding a hand up (count me amongst them). "Yes, Rise Against fans are this f---ing crazy everywhere!" he expounded.
I thought that a solo acoustic set was a risk to take in such a charged live environment but I couldn't have been more wrong. Tim held the crowd in the palm of his hand as he performed "Audience of One" (the closest the band has ever come to pop/punk) and "Swing Life Away."
Unfortunately, the show ground to a halt during the encore and for no fault of the band's. Rise Against stopped midway through "The Strength to go On" as McIlrath noticed something going on in the pit about a third of the way back from the stage on the floor. How he noticed it, I have no clue. I never saw anything out of the ordinary and I was closer to it. But apparently someone got hurt and the show ended up being halted for about fifteen minutes as security worked to part the Red Sea that was the general admission floor to clear paramedics a path and space to treat the injured concertgoer. I don't know the extent of the person's injuries but the show did resume and the band finished the night with "Savior." However, by that point, all momentum was lost during what was admittedly a quite scary moment. I don't want to think about what could have happened had the band not noticed and kept on playing.
All in all, what McIlrath at one point called "Rise Against's biggest show in Chicago ever" was an amazing night of music, amidst an incredibly worked up crowd from a band that's truly come into it's own. Youthful energy plus unbridled passion made for one hell of a concert (in spite of the U.I.C. Pavilion).