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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Witnessing for hard-core

Rise Against preaches punk to 10,000 fans blissfully ignoring the no-mosh-pit signs.

September 17, 2007|Ann Powers | Times Staff Writer

Signs posted all around the Long Beach Arena strictly forbade mosh pits. But freedom of expression rarely falters in the wake of a mere placard, especially when a band like Rise Against is in the house. The Chicago-based quartet, which gained renown after two solid albums on Geffen Records and a main-stage spot on last year's Warped Tour, appeared at the cavernous venue Saturday in what singer Tim McIlrath described onstage as "a momentous occasion for punk rock." Indeed, the band's set, played for the largest audience it has ever faced and one of the biggest to attend a punk show this year, created a cathartic mood that had fans breaking rules to fulfill ritual.

Rise Against followed a small horde of punk bands, including Santa Barbara's Lagwagon and Simi Valley veterans Strung Out, whose sets drew maybe half of the 10,000 or so fans away from the concessions. But when McIlrath stepped to the microphone and his mates began the precise, assaultive music that renders his sandpapered tenor even more ferocious, the mood intensified.

As the band propelled itself through leftist inspirational songs such as "Chamber the Cartridge" and "Give It All," circles of mostly male fans formed everywhere around the arena's concrete floor, jostling one another and smiling, creating centrifugal currents. Yellow-shirted security guards stood nearby, ruffled, but no one could permanently stop the mosh.

American punk, now as old as the Christian megachurch movement, offers its adherents a mix of community, tradition and self-determination -- not unlike what those nondenominational clearing houses provide. McIlrath made a great preacher, his arms held aloft as he howled about defeating oppression, his between-song patter as animated as his singing.

"We would like to send this next song out to those of us who know what passion means," he announced before the revolution-minded "Give It All." Every aside had that tone of anointment, while his singing ran from an empathetic murmur to an all-out howl.

For all his charisma, McIlrath would be nothing without his band, particularly drummer Brandon Barnes, who walloped whenever necessary but showed more dexterity during the band's frequent time shifts and occasional forays into heavy-metal jamming. Rise Against had no trouble delivering the traditional punk "1-2-3-4!" but also indulged in a few ballads and several songs that moved frenetically between such hard-core assaults and something gentler.

The night's most startling moment came when the band brought out a cellist, a violist and a violinist -- all women -- for a couple of ballads. (Rise Against has played with strings before, including on its latest album, "The Sufferer & the Witness.") McIltrath's mournful tone on "Swing Life Away" was almost like that of a country singer, but soon enough, the band jumped back into high-energy mode. It was pleasant to discover how artfully this boy gang can go soft, but Rise Against soon got back to its main mission: keeping the moshers in touch with the unchurched holy spirit within.

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ann.powers@latimes.com

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