Smile Politely

The show you missed out on

Going into Assembly Hall on Sunday, I was nervous, not looking forward to the awful acoustics that the Hall is known for with two of my all-time favorite groups performing, along with an unknown I had never even heard of.

The floor admission sold out pretty quickly, so I was expecting a pretty packed area. I didn’t even get to the show until about 7:15, and I was worried about where I’d have to stand. I didn’t need to worry, though, because there was an incredible amount of space still available in the floor area. I’m assuming that the Assembly Hall drastically undersells the space due to fire codes or other legal reasons, but compared to every other large concert I’ve been to, there was way more room than necessary.

That actually kind of sucked, for two reasons: One ― too much space and you lose a lot of energy, because you don’t get the feel of a packed, fun show with enthusiastic people. You get that “feeling lonely in a crowd” vibe going on. Two ― you get the jerks who think because they have a ton of space that they need to fill it. Some idiot who was (most likely) too scared to actually get into the mosh pit was stomping around, waving his hands to and fro in the open space of about 20 feet, looking like a total tool. Not quite the same thing as actually jumping around, buddy. More like the definition of “waste of space.” Despite the couple of people being a pain, when pits started later on in the night, they weren’t bad, and the crowd got into it, but max capacity definitely was not reached that night, though the floor was “sold out” and the audience in the seats was a decent crowd.

It’s a Sunday, and I know we have work the next day (well, some of us,) but the main area was packed full of college kids, which led to a less than appropriate reception to the awesome that is Bad Religion. But I skip ahead…

7:25 p.m., Four Year Strong

These guys blew me away. I had never heard of them. I had no idea how it would go. I assumed it would suck (sorry) ― some unknown opening act who’ve been around since 2001 and still hadn’t gotten major radio play and wow, was I wrong. If I had actually bothered to listen to their first single (from 2009), “It Must Really Suck to Be Four Year Strong Right Now,” I would have realized they have a pretty great pop punk sound.

They easily established a great energy in the front, and unlike me, there were plenty of people there singing who obviously had heard the group before. Between that song and the incredibly enjoyable (latest) single, “Wasting Time (Eternal Summer),” the crowd had a good time singing along, moving, and enjoying the set.

After a really intense, high-energy, 30-minute set, they finished promptly at 8:00, having established a good rapport with the crowd and (with me at least) gaining future fans,

8:15 p.m., Bad Religion

Yes, we all know. Bad Religion isn’t headlining? WTF? But … given the crowd, it was the right call. If they had been headlining, it might have been a different crowd, but the crowd that was there? They might as well have said, “Bad Religion who?” That’s not to say people weren’t singing along. The second song of the set was “American Jesus.” Everyone rocked out. The last song, “Sorrow.” Everyone rocked out to that one too. Even the older stuff got a great reception (cough, because it’s the best, cough). Their new stuff? Not as great a reception. People enjoyed it all, and Bad Religion seemed to have a good time out there. Did they break a sweat? No. Did it seem like they were just taking it easy and having a blast with no pressure as the headliner? Most definitely.

And that’s cool. People really got into the obvious radio/well-known hits, and not as much into the new stuff. Bad Religion played “Wrong Way Kids,” from their latest album. It’s enjoyable; it’s interesting; it highlights Graffin’s vocals. People nodded and enjoyed, but when they played “We’re Only Gonna Die,” at least some people took notice.

It was obvious they weren’t the draw, and they knew it. They acknowledged that they were happy to be opening for Rise Against, because five years ago, when they were touring, Rise Against was opening for them, and they were glad to see their friends doing so well. Graffin and the group seemed to be enjoying themselves, and when 9:00 rolled around, they waved goodbye and headed out, done with a 45 minute set.

9:15 p.m., Rise Against

And then there was Rise Against. The stage got setup differently (more risers and things for the lead singer to pace on), the energy of the crowd intensified. Rise Against played all of the songs that are on Rock Band.

They only played a few songs off of their new CD, including their single, “Help Is on the Way,” which is much better live than on the radio (very repetitive on the radio, a lot more enthusiasm live). They also played “Make It Stop (September’s Children),” which is a powerful song against homophobia. The lead singer, Tim Mcllrath, acknowledged Bad Religion as one of their major influences, someone who helped pave the way for so many others.

One of the most interesting parts of the night for me was when they credited Bad Religion with giving them the courage to be able to speak their minds on controversial issues. Following that, Tim Mcllrath sang “Hero of War,” which is one of their most lyrically powerful songs, condemning the War in Iraq. That song was the second in a more mellow set, which began when he played his guitar by himself for “Swing Life Away” and was then accompanied by one of his bandmates for “Hero of War.” They also made a point to acknowledge a booth set up at their concerts for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), as well as Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Between their loud, intense sets and the mellow, quieter songs, Rise Against did an excellent job, and the crowd obviously loved it. Every song was sung loudly by the audience as well as Mcllrath. That being said, the audio, as I’ve come to expect from Assembly Hall, was off. During the quieter songs, the speakers crackled and changed in volume, and did not clearly project Mcllrath’s voice. During the louder songs, the focus continually switched between some instruments coming through clearer than others.

If you get a chance to see any of these bands live, do it. They all did a great job. From a very impressive set from Four Year Strong, a fantastic ― if unappreciated ― set by Bad Religion, and an explosive, intense set from Rise Against, the audience was not left underwhelmed.

All photos by Scott Weber

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