“Happy Rise Against Day, everybody!” said Rise Against singer and rhythm guitarist Tim McIlrath last Friday in Wicker Park.
20 years in isn’t a point most punk bands either aspire to or reach, which made Friday’s release of the ninth Rise Against studio album Nowhere Generation, now available via streaming platforms and on CD, vinyl or cassette via Loma Vista Recordings, a moment worth celebrating.
Friday afternoon in Wicker Park, Rise Against teamed up with alternative radio station 101WKQX, commemorating the release of the new album with an in store acoustic performance by McIlrath in front of just 50 lucky fans and a full band signing of the new album for the hundreds lined up outside of Reckless Records (later announcing a homecoming concert date alongside The Menzingers and Descendents on Saturday, August 28 at Northerly Island).
Fans flew into Chicago from as far away as Brazil, gathering outside the indie record shop as early as 8:30 AM, nearly nine hours prior to the start of McIlrath’s acoustic set, a line which eventually snaked its way down Milwaukee Avenue and around the corner onto Wood Street despite temperatures pushing 90 degrees.
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“The guys are upstairs and they’re excited to see your faces… the parts of your faces they can see,” joked McIlrath to the masked crowd, noting his first public performance of the new Rise Against music following more than a year away from the stage amidst the COVID pandemic.
It was an event further driven by Friday, June 4, 2021 as Rise Against Day in Chicago, following a surprise proclamation from Mayor Lori Lightfoot recognizing the hometown band’s longevity and social awareness, with Kerry Sheehan (Projects Administrator, Programming with the city of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events) on hand to bestow the honor.
“Chicago sets the bar pretty high,” said McIlrath following Friday’s festivities. “From Gwendolyn Brooks to Kanye West, we are not starved for amazing people, artists, creative thinkers, journalists, authors, or actors. So to be considered part of the canon of Chicago is just huge. To have the city actually honor us with a day is not even a goal I aspired to. It’s still overwhelming.”
McIlrath kicked off a three song acoustic set with “Talking to Ourselves,” a track from the latest Rise Against album which underscores the new record’s sense of urgency and ability to speak directly to a captive young audience during uncertain times.
“I love when a band strips it down. Because there are melodies inherent in the chords that are chosen, right? A songwriter will choose chords for a reason. And sometimes the melodies of certain chords get lost in loud music and fast music. They just get lost. And those melodies get brought up to the surface when it’s acoustic,” said co-founding Rise Against bassist Joe Principe. “I love that about the acoustic side of the band.”
“Nowhere Generation is an album that is trying to distill the fears and anxieties that young people feel today about what tomorrow will look like,” said McIlrath. “The bulk of it was meaningfully finished before the pandemic, which was an interesting dynamic. They were even recorded before it for the most part. Everything was kind of buttoned up and then we were getting kicked out of hotels in Colorado as everything was locking down,” said the singer, referencing sessions for the new album which took place in Fort Collins, Colorado with longtime producer and Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson at his Blasting Room studio in 2020.
“Sometimes writing songs and recording an album is like a car sitting in your driveway that you haven’t driven in a while. And when you put the key in, it really is anyone’s guess what’s going to happen. ‘Is that engine going to turn over? Is it going to still run? Do we still have songs? Do we have anything left to say, anything left in us?’ And when you do, it’s such a gift,” explained the singer. “To have those songs come to you and to find yet another chapter of your band that is yet to be written, that stuff is really rewarding. It’s why you do it – you dig for that gold.”
Friday’s in store set wrapped up with a store wide sing-a-long on “Prayer of the Refugee,” a cut from the group’s fourth studio album The Sufferer & The Witness in 2006. But McIlrath was just getting going, making his way outside the store, guitar in hand, for a solo take on “Swing Life Away.”
Strumming along from atop a chair on a patio outside a nearby piano bar, McIlrath serenaded those unable to make it inside the shop for the brief acoustic set, the patient crowd taking on a restrained lead vocal during the one-of-a-kind sidewalk performance.
“We’re usually on the road. Sometimes we’re even overseas. So to be here in Chicago listening to the songs on the station I grew up listening to at the record store that I came to? Reckless was like a church for me that I worshiped at the altar of. To see your album up on the wall with all the bands of the day, it really puts it all into context,” said McIlrath, taking stock of Rise Against Day in the band’s hometown. “This was a perfect day. Rise Against Day, announcing the Northerly Island show. Announcing The Descendents and The Menzingers are playing with us. Releasing the new album. It’s just huge. It’s all kind of overwhelming.”
Tags: Bill Stevenson, Brandon Barnes, Descendents, In-store performance, interview, Joe Principe, Loma Vista Recordings, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Northerly Island, Nowhere Generation, Reckless Records, Record release party, Rise Against, Rise Against Day, The Menzingers, Tim McIlrath, Wicker Park, Zach Blair