Prancing around in flattened, jet-black hair and with eyeliner so thick that Keith Richards would cringe, it’s no wonder that screamo mongers From First To Last (or From Worst To Ass as some were calling them) weren’t exactly hitting it off with the aging skater punks that comprise most of Bad Religion ‘s fanbase. Working through a quick half-hour set of typical yet passionate suburban youth anthems laid down over recycled Grade riffs, they were… openers. To their credit, the band worked hard at winning over the less than half-full crowd and eventually did rouse a portion of us into cheering them on.
Chicago upstarts Rise Against thrust the audience (bursting at the seams by this point) into virtual pandemonium. Strolling out on stage as they usually do, the band were probably taken aback at the strong reaction to their politically-charged hardcore-ish punk rock. Enthusiastic and energized by pumping fists and a worked up crowd, Rise Against spent the better part of an hour belting out a wide selection of tracks from their three album history, every one of which was met with heated applause. Even the “What the hell were we thinking by re-electing Bush,” comments went down well. It was looking like Bad Religion would have to really light a fire under their asses if they were to top this set.
Fortunately, wisdom, savvy and experience won out in the end. Nonchalant yet eager, the SoCal punk rock giants were not to be outdone. Letting their message be the show’s focal point, the band ripped through a bevy of tracks from their latest effort The Empire Strikes First and requisite crowd-pleasers such as “21st Century Digital Boy.” Yes, it was an obvious setlist but it was still enticing and rewarding.
While there was an absolute lack of surprise or fanfare on any level, one couldn’t argue that punk rock was dead. Judging by the energy that each of these bands threw at us, it was obvious that truly passionate music need not hide behind pyrotechnics and fancy lighting. It just needs to be heard.