Rise Against: Nazi Wingnuts or Just Plain Lazy?

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If you thought skinhead punk was a fringe phenomenon occurring only in clannish groups like the one depicted in American History X, think again.

Chicago punk act Rise Against appeared to send a clear message that they're outraged with the Obama administration at Mesa Amphitheatre last night, offering a bitter lyrical critique of American government and hanging two upside-down American flags on the stage. Since our current president is a liberal African American, and our congress is controlled by a filibuster-proof Democrat majority, we're left to conclude they're radical Right Wingers, possibly part of -- or a least in sympathy with -- a fascist Aryan organization. The band's guitarist did have a shaved head and a black short sleeve button-down, which seemingly reinforces the neo-Nazi connection. It's a shame too, because, as the band showed last night, they've written some solid radio-friendly punk songs in "Audience of One" and "Survive."

Now, it's also possible Rise Against are not Nazis, however the only other plausible theory isn't pretty. Hypothetically, we can imagine they're pathetic clowns who made a living railing against the Bush administration for eight years, profiting through an artless blend of the perennial misanthropy of youth and the widespread political alienation of the times. Though Obama has been in power for six months now, this alternate theory supposes, Rise Against is either too lazy or too stupid to update their image by developing an equally lucrative schema reflective of our nation's current political climate.

I'll go with the more charitable interpretation, and conclude they're Limbaugh-loving Wingnuts.

Here's the thing: After eight years of anti-Bush punk, typified by Green Day's gazillion-selling American Idiot, it's hard to imagine any band still trying to pass that shit off to a crowd of baggy-jeaned kids with a straight face. And though the very well-done acoustic versions of "Hero of War" and "Everchanging" that the band offered up during their encore seemed to hint at a liberal message, I just can't see a band with as much talent as Rise Against showed during their final number, "Ready To Fall" refusing to bravely move forward into this hopeful new era.

Nope, they must be extremist conservatives..

Or, maybe, they're somehow unaware of the changes. That seems plausible since, after the crowd booed a mention of Texas, which is guitarist Zach Blair's home state, singer Tim McIlrath said the state is great though it's home to "shitty presidents." Someone in the crowd must have mentioned Illinois to McIllrath because he said "Yeah, Illinois..." without referencing Obama in any way, shape or form. Has no one told him? Or is he hoping no one knows, that way the lyrics to their 2004 song "State of the Union," which they played early on, don't seem so out of date:

If we're the flagship of peace and prosperity,
We're taking on water and about to fuckin' sink.
No one seems to notice,
No one even blinks.
The crew left the passengers to die under the sea.

Call me crazy, but it seems like only a straggler from the Montana Freemen would try to pass that commentary off as relevant these days. If the Rise Against guys were anything other than extreme conservatives, you'd figure they'd update it a bit, and retire those ridiculous upside-down flags.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Rise Against and Rancid at Mesa Ampitheatre.

Better Than: Umm, the Bush years? Actually, Rancid was solid opening, with that trademark combination of Tim Armstrong's guttural verses and Lars Frederiksen's sparkling refrains sounding great through hits like "Time Bomb," "Salvation," "Ruby Soho" and "Olympia."

Personal Bias: Anti-punk politics, unless timely and topical. So much of Rise Against's set reminded me of an anecdote about an old punk yelling "Reagan Sucks!" at last month's Youth Brigade show at Yucca Tap Room.

Further Listening: Been awhile since I heard it, but man does it hold up well...
By the Way: I don't really think Rise Against are Nazis. That supposition was what we in the business call a rhetorical device.

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