[21 May 2012]
PopMatters Events Editor
More than a few eyebrows were raised late last year when tour plans were announced involving the pairing of Chicago punk rock act Rise Against and Ocala metalcore band A Day to Remember. Certainly, both bands stood to benefit from the sheer enormity of the ensuing crowds that would flock to each date along with the opportunity to gain new followers from each other’s rabid fan-bases, but there was a strangeness surrounding the coupling of two bands with such differing voices. That peculiar feeling fades away quickly, however, when thrust into the experience itself. Somehow, this mixture of bro-core revelry and punk rock activism manages to blend in more ways than you might expect.
There’s no such thing as a casual Rise Against fan – if you’re a fan of this band, you’re all in. That concept actually makes quite a bit of sense when you consider the band’s outspoken political and ethical views. Rise Against has made no bones about where they stand on issue ranging from debatable topics such as animal rights (the band are avid supporters of PETA and are all vegan) to more universal claims such as anti-bullying and anti-homophobia (the band’s recent single “Make it Stop [September’s Children] references teen suicides within the LGBT community). The band were also active in the Rock Against Bush campaign during the 2004 election and have regularly voiced their opinions on issues abroad. In short, the band encompasses so many of the underlying values that gave punk a voice in past decades.
Much like Rise Against, A Day to Remember has a rather devout following as well, albeit for different motives. Although their detractors have regularly pointed out the band’s hard-headed insistence on melding pop-punk with hardcore elements into an admittedly strange, yet unique mixture, it’s been that very headstrong mindset that’s made them poster-boys for the current Warped Tour scene. For every person out there who’s yearning to “stand for something” or has “something to prove,” A Day to Remember offers just that opportunity; even better if you can achieve as much while in the mosh-pit as a given song’s breakdown hits its crescendo. Perhaps its best to say that A Day to Remember offers a more open-ended approach to action than Rise Against, just as long as you make sure to stay the hell out of the way.
Due to a sold out, standing-room-only crowd crammed into the amphitheatre setting of Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati, OH, the crowd was interspersed evenly with fans of both bands. Everyone in attendance nodded along politely, both to opening act Title Fight and to the Beastie Boys songs played over the speakers in between bands. It didn’t take long for A Day to Remember to change the mood with their signature vocal mimic of the opening breakdown in “The Downfall of Us All” leading into the onslaught of the song itself. The sea of people located in front of the stage would continue to move amoeba-like throughout the entire set. Fans adorning both A Day to Remember and Rise Against attire could be seen stumbling out of the pit in glee for a few moments before diving back in. Many other Rise Against fans with less affinity for bruises could be seen looking on from afar with approval.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about seeing A Day to Remember in person is that it’s extremely difficult to not enjoy the experience in some form or another without feeling like a complete snob. Even if you’re not into the chugga-chugga drop-D tuned riffage interspersed with lead vocalist Jeremy McKinnon’s snarled verses and poppy choruses, the event is a spectacle in and of itself. Whether it be the band’s full body synchronized head banging, the giant beach balls tossing about the crowd, the delightfully light and playful stage banter, or the undeniable sense of unity amongst the band’s fans, it’s hard to escape how engaging the whole thing is. Whether you’re in attendance to mosh out your anger or bounce about in joy, there’s room inside A Day to Remember’s performance for whatever form your expression takes.
The mood has shifted greatly by the time the lights dim and a video packed to the brim with socio-political clips and narrative begins playing on the screen before Rise Against takes the stage. Aside from a handful of A Day to Remember fans sitting at tables just outside the amphitheatre chattering about the band’s performance, it appears that hardly anyone has headed for the exits. By the time Rise Against lead man Tim McIlrath steps up to the mic, the mayhem has begun again, though this time it is accompanied with pumping fists, stern looks, and a choir of an audience singing along to every word.
Rise Against’s set is focused, rapid-fire, and damn-near technically perfect. Tim McIlrath’s vocals are something you have to hear in person to fully appreciate. Whether the band is playing a newer cut like “Help is on the Way” at full force or playing an older track like “Give it All” during a stripped-down acoustic portion of their set, each song is played with sincerity and urgency. Many of the same fans who were just bouncing blissfully to A Day to Remember have now taken on a more serious and pressing posture toward Rise Against’s songs of action. The band’s set is just as engaging to watch, but for reasons less tangible than stage presence.
Punk fans have a knack for being a bit pretentious (I’m including myself here), which makes situations such as odd band lineups and unlikely collaborations the sort of topics that will stoke a fire for days on any given internet forum. On the other hand, the genre also has lends itself to strong communities of listeners and thinkers alike, offering room for differing ideas, perspectives, and motives. The same thing that makes the bill of A Day to Remember and Rise Against odd, also serves as an opportunity for a rather interesting shared experience.
A Day to Remember: