Rise Against have risen to arena rock status, a slow but steady incline they seem to be relishing while definitely not taking for granted.
The Chicago-based aggressive hard rock/punk group – who headlined Edgefest last summer at Downsview Park – did an admirable job filling up most of the Air Canada Centre floor and lower bowl. And within their music come some provoking political and social messages.
With four small video screens showing images of war, armies and the resulting suffering it causes, Rise Against opened with Survivor Guilt, a bruising tune led by singer Tim McIlrath rapid-fire delivery, the group tore into the tune with reckless, Alexisonfire-like abandon. And from there it the ensuing punk-abilly fuelled Ready To Fall caused massive moshing on the floor as high-kicking guitarist Zach Blair and bassist Joe Principe traded places on either side of McIlrath.
“How we doing tonight, Toronto?” the singer asked before removing his guitar for the hard-charging, old-school punk of Collapse (Post-Amerika). Dressed in black and twirling his microphone cord a la The Who's Roger Daltrey, the singer also cited all of the smaller Toronto clubs the group performed at over the years before hitting this arena.
The first true highlight was the intense yet gear-changing The Good Left Undone from 2006's The Sufferer and The Witness which caused a huge sing-along and hands clapping high over heads. Later on Re-Education (Through Labor) had much the same effect with a huge ovation to close. Meanwhile Broken English from the band's debut had drummer Brandon Barnes earning his keep with the powerful, occasionally maniacal tempo.
After another crowd pleasing Help Is On The Way, the group again took a brief break as more video images appeared, this time of Occupy Wall Street protests. But the growing mosh circle didn't seem to take much stock in global economics by the time the leaner, grittier Drones had Blair and Principe adding backing vocals.
Reared in a very no-nonsense approach to performing, with hardly any bells and whistles, Rise Against dropped a curtain during the foot-stomping Satellite to reveal a boy draped in an American flag. Another keeper was the polished, primitive yet powerful Prayer Of The Refugee which settled in perfectly as McIlrath held his guitar over his head at the end.
Roughly an hour in, the group left the stage with the singer returning for an acoustic set and referring to Canadian bands like Billy Talent, Cancer Bats and Alexisonfire. Audience Of One created a sea of cigarette lighters flickering, outnumbering the standard cell phones of today's concert goer. But it was Swing Life Away that caused the loudest sing-along with McIlrath ending with a big grin.
Make It Stop (September's Children), a song written with gay and lesbian teens in mind and associated with the It Gets Better project, featured images of different kids talking about their experiences. Closing the 80-minute main set with the fiery Give It All, Rise Against returned with an encore that ended with a fleshed out Savior.
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