It’s almost mind-boggling that in a career spanning nearly two decades, with multiple records receiving gold status and plenty of critical acclaim, punk rock band Rise Against had yet to headline a show in Nashville.
That had somehow been the case until Sunday night when the Chicago-based rockers performed to a sold-out crowd, bringing its Mourning In Amerika Tour to Marathon Music Works. The political and unapologetic punk rockers also brought Anti-Flag and AFI with them to Nashville.
“It took us 18 years to headline a show in Nashville,” said lead singer Tim McIlrath. “But, we will be back.”
The last time that the Music City saw Rise Against, the band was opening for Linkin Park at Bridgestone Arena back in January 2015. That tour was forced to be cut short after playing just three dates, when then-lead singer of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, broke his leg, canceling the remainder of the performances.
Since then, Rise Against has stayed active, releasing “Wolves,” its eighth studio album in the summer of 2017 and following that with a North American tour. The band then surprised fans with another release in July, putting out “The Ghost Note Symphonies, Vol 1.,” featuring 10 stripped down performances of songs ranging from its entire library of songs.
The more recent release must have inspired Rise Against. Rather than perform the newer songs in an effort to promote “Wolves,” the band drew mostly from its earlier albums.
In fact, Sunday’s set list for Rise Against felt devised as three different acts. The band played roughly 13 songs, before McIlrath performed four songs acoustically. The full band then rejoined their lead singer to close out the set with three final tracks to close out the night.
More so than the content of its set list, what made Sunday’s show spectacular, was the fact that the band made it a priority to feel connected to its audience, which felt authentic. Earlier in the set, McIlrath grabbed the microphone during “Give It All,” jumping off stage and right up against the barricade to meet the fans. From there the lead singer bellowed out the words to the song, in the faces of fans, while high-fiving several others and even joining a crowd surfer for a sing along during the tune.
During the acoustic performance, McIlrath again addressed the fans, once again apologizing that it took them 18 years to headline a show in Nashville. During the four-song performance, Rise Against concluded with a fan-favorite, “Swing Life Away,” which is meant to remind fans of simpler days, hanging out with friends, enjoying the relationships that life brings, when money never mattered.
“We live on front porches and swing life away. We get by just fine here on minimum wage. If love is a labor I’ll slave to the end. I won’t cross these streets until you hold my hand,” the crowd loudly sang back the band’s frontman.
Earlier in the acoustic set, it was a welcome surprise to see that McIlrath included one of the band’s more controversial songs, “Hero of War.” The song was released on “Appeal to Reason,” the band’s fifth studio album and tells a story of a young man who enlists in the army and details his experiences, his gruesome sights and things he partook in while overseas. When the album released in 2008, the song drew ire from plenty of fans, including those who had or were currently serving in the military.
McIlrath and the rest of the band have addressed the meaning of the song in numerous interviews, stating that in their eyes, the song is one of the more important songs that they had ever written, addressing the high volume of soldiers who return home and are deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to Rise Against, the members wanted to spotlight the staggering suicide rate among those soldiers with the disorder.
During Sunday night, McIlrath started the performance by his self. However, the band joined in later to fill out the remainder of the song.
The addition of the other three band members made the song’s impact that much stronger. As McIlrath dove into the final verse of the song, drummer Brandon Barnes led a beat was intentionally military-esque in its cadence, helping make the song’s meaning resonate more with the audience.
Following the end of the acoustic part of the set, Rise Against headed straight into another one of their more political songs, “Make It Stop (September’s Children).” This song was released on “Endgame,” the band’s sixth studio album and addresses the bullying and harassment that LGBT youth face.
On the album track, during an instrumental part of the song, McIlrath can be heard listing off a list of names and ages. Those addressed are a list of kids who had come out as gay, who had ended their life due to bullying and teasing they received.
With his lyrics, McIlrath portrays the voice of a child who is enduring bullying. The purpose of the song is an effort to try to reduce the number of those LGBT youth from committing suicide. During the song, McIlrath tell those who have been teased because of their sexuality to not give up as things will get better.
“Make it stop. Let this end. This life chose me, I’m not lost in sin. And proud I stand, of who I am, I plan to go on living.”
During the finale, Rise Against concluded with hit, “Prayer of the Refugee,” from its fourth studio album “The Suffer & the Witness.”
The song was certified platinum in 2013 and features a captivating opening guitar riff, followed by a powerful chorus. When it came time for that final song to hit, the crowd was jumping, full of energy and screaming out the words as Rise Against ended its performance on a high note.
Pittsburgh punk natives Anti-Flag got the night started with a high-energy performance as the band lept throughout the entire 40-minute set. Their set ended with drummer Pat Thetic grabbing his kit and playing against the barricade to fans as the band closed with “Brandenburg Gate” one of their more popular songs.
California rockers AFI followed with another energetic performance as lead singer Davey Havok and the rest of the band bounced around the entire set. The audience was well into the set and were overjoyed to hear the band go into hit “Miss Murder.”
Both AFI and Anti-Flag added cover songs in both of their sets which were welcome surprises. Anti-Flag performed The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” AFI hit fans with, as Havok said, “easily the oldest song that we are going to play,” heading into a cover of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.”
The Mourning in America Tour will continue until the end of September. For more dates and information, visit www.riseagainst.com/news/mourning-amerika-tour.