Rise Against

support Anti-Flag + Flobots
author AP date 21/02/09 venue Pyramids, Portsmouth, UK

Upon arrival at the Portsmouth Pyramids, we are met by what is essentially little more than a large conference room which immediately leads me to question the acoustics of the venue. In it is what looks like an amateurish, high school stage setup with no light rack and an array of cheap-looking portable speakers. Add to that a slim selection of overpriced and watered down beer and the first impression is not great. It turns out that the sound is near-perfect though and as the evening's first act, Flobots, takes the stage the last shreds of skepticism vanish.

Flobots

To be perfectly frank, Flobots were until tonight a band from whom I had no idea what to expect; and certainly not this. On stage comes a female violinist followed by two rappers and a session band, and from the speakers comes and strange but curiously addictive fusion of hip hop, punk rock and funk. Skeptical at first, the crowd quickly succumbs to the band's unique take on music. Through clever samples, violin tunes and political lyrics, Flobots establish a punk-friendly atmosphere for the concert that is fun and melancholic at the same time (thanks to the emotive violin leads and some clever samples) and urge the audience to look past their hip hop facade to realize that they share the ideology of the two other bands on the bill. For the undersigned, the music of Flobots recalls memories of Eminem's more serious repertoire, which, say what you will about it, is actually pretty good. It doesn't hurt, either, that songs like "Handlebars" and "Rise" are ridiculously catchy and danceable while never swerving from their intelligent, political path.

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Anti-Flag

One would think that a band as outspoken about the perils of the Bush Administration as Anti-Flag would have run out of things to rebel against with the recent inauguration of Barack Obama - and yet as the quartet emerge from backstage, bassist Chris Barker seems as keen as ever to carry on the protest, imploring every person in the room to raise their middle fingers. This defiant salute leads neatly into the old school punk tirade, "Fuck Police Brutality", delivered with the usual heart and gusto that we have come to expect from his band. Continuing from where Flobots left off, the show is littered with fragments of political commentary and immediately the atmosphere is set to unity and equality, with Justin Sane repeatedly reminding us of the punk rock etiquette: if someone falls down, what do we do? We pick them up. And as always, Anti-Flag have connected with a local charity - tonight an animal rights organization - who have set up a booth in the back of the venue, and which Sane urges the crowd to check out before leaving.

It's this sincerity and conviction with which Anti-Flag perform that makes their shows the treat that they are, although their energy on stage should not be left without credit either. One rarely witnesses the amount of connection that exists between Anti-Flag and the crowd tonight, and more than once Barker embraces this mutual respect and makes his signature dive into the hands of the audience; a recurrence which has since cost him a broken collar bone and resulted in the cancellation of the rest of the band's European dates. Occasionally the two arm themselves with tambourines and megaphones to add extra spice to the smoother, more anthemic songs like "I Fought The Law"; and speaking of smooth, overall the show is far less frenetic than I knew to expect. It relies more on the heartfelt honesty in the band's delivery than death-defying dillinger stunts, which, for this scribe at least, is the essence of a true punk rock show.

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Rise Against

Tim McIlrath, too, provokes thought with his punk-o-political rhetoric, but not before pedaling full force through the tragic "Drones". With that, the mood is set for Rise Against's insightful and often heart wrenching interpretation of punk. Its mature message about social tragedy puts the band in stark contrast with the raging urgency of Anti-Flag, and in Tim's voice there is genuine concern. And yet as dystopian as it is in character, it is no less effective in inciting a blaring response from the quiltwork of fans here tonight. During the band's more explosive moments in songs like "State Of The Union" and "Behind Closed Doors" the room implodes into circle and moshpits which leave behind them a trace of orphaned shoes which, rather than being hurled at someone in the crowd for shits and giggles as would be the case in most scene gigs in the country, are rescued by others and reunited with their owners during pauses in between songs.

One of the highlights of the gig comes with the post-encore acoustic montage of "Hero Of War" and "Swing Life Away", for which the craze respectfully dies down. As cliché and tacky as it may sound, for ten minutes the crowd is at one with the music, swaying from side to side, lighters out, singing gracefully along with every word. During these ten minutes the room bathes in dark blue light, while a single spotlight is centered on Tim for whom these songs are obviously very important and personal. Despite this being a medium size venue, it is engulfed in intimacy, further strengthened by Tim's sincere indifference to how fans get access to his music. It is the message that's important, he reminds us. Then, to enthusiastic applaud, the acoustic guitars go and the familiar intro melody of "Survive" opens the three-song finale which comprises three of the bands most anthemic tracks: the aforementioned followed by "Audience Of One" and "Prayer Of The Refugee".

Setlist:

01. Drones

02. Give It All

03. State Of The Union

04. Ready To Fall

05. Injection

06. Re-Education (Through Labor)

07. Chamber The Cartridge

08. Stained Glass And Marble

09. Behind Closed Doors

10. Life Less Frightening

11. Like The Angel

12. Collapse (Post-Amerika)

13. Heaven Knows

14. Long Forgotten Sons

15. The Good Left Undone

--Encore--

16. Hero Of War

17. Swing Life Away

18. Survive

19. Audience Of One

20. Prayer Of The Refugee

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