What is Punk? Rise Against in Kansas City

According to urbandictionary.com the definition of punk is as follows, “A guy walks up to me and asks ‘What’s Punk?’. So I kick over a garbage can and say ‘That’s punk!’. So he kicks over the garbage can and says ‘That’s Punk?’, and I say ‘No that’s trendy!” While the definition will surely not be adopted by Webster anytime soon, it seems to be pretty dead on in its authenticity of what makes punk “punk”.  I’m still not entirely sure where Rise Against would linger on the “punk versus trendy” scale. However, I know it would indisputably reside somewhere closer to punk on a list with the Sex Pistols peaking near the top as “most punk” and Avril Lavigne holding 1st place for trendiest punk… if there is such a thing.

Now, the band professes that they are indubiously punk, but looking out into the pristine, over-populated, Midland on Wednesday night I wondered if true punk was even possible anymore. I am, unfortunately, too young to remember the origins of the movement, but the imagery that is conjured involves a dirty bar with graffiti-stained walls, crowded with a room of sweaty, shirtless, tattooed teenagers determined to butt into one another until enough bruises had been form to prove that they are, in fact, punk. This is, of course, an unfair stereotype, but in a world where terms like punk-pop, punk revival, rockabilly, proto-punk and cowpunk exists sometimes the stereotype seems to be more significant than the music itself.

It should be known that these musings were all contemplated before Rise Against took the stage. Regardless of any terminology, the crowd on Wednesday night was seriously rocking the fuck out. Everywhere around me were people having a good time. There was one girl who opted to jump up and down through every note played by the band. Her head shook to the beat of the music, only momentarily pausing to wipe the sweat from her brow, then continuing to hop into the next song. I counted no less than fourteen shirtless, post-moshing boys wandering around with their sweat-drenched shirts over their shoulders and a euphoria of having just had the shit beat out of them.

This enthusiasm seeping out of every person in the audience was equally met on stage. The theatrics of the show were innate from the moment Rise Against began to perform. In near darkness, a drum roll, from Brandon Barnes, invaded the speakers and a fervor culminated as everyone awaited something “big” about to occur. After allowing an appropriate time for the anticipation to rise in the crowd, the first notes of “Chamber the Cartridge” were sung by frontman, Tim McIlrath. The lights simultaneously rose with this intro, as McIlrath was revealed to already be in position atop a speaker looking out into an audience. An audience, now, roaring with an excitement that had to have been shaking every wall holding up the venue.

This intensity lasted throughout the entire evening. Stating early in the night that “we gotta keep this place a sanctuary from the bullshit world” McIlrath seemed intent on keeping a camaraderie between the stage and the floor. The night was not about observing the band, but about participating with them. There were very few songs that did not require contributions from the audience, including singing along to the choruses of hits such as “Ready to Fall”, “Re-Education (Through Labor)” and “Prayer of the Refugee”. When a few acoustic numbers were performed including a very mellowed rendition of “Swing Life Away”, the crowd actually pulled out real lighters, instead of a plethora of smart phones, to set the mood.  There was even a moment of pause in the show when McIlrath noticed a handful of fans from previous shows and stopped to say a few words. There was no vanity found on the stage, if you were at the Midland while Rise Against performed you were just as significant as anyone else.

In fact, this level of equality is something that permeated the entire night. I am always amazed to see people discuss the concepts of patriotism, only to never hear the term “punk” mentioned. Rise Against is not solely a rock band, it is also a hugely political one. So political, in fact, that throughout much of the set an image of a distressed American flag hung behind the band. Two songs were dedicated to fundraisers that were following Rise Against on tour. One of which was for the advocacy of adopting animals from shelters and the other regarding Iraqi veterans against the war. This band is singing about things that they feel abundant passion for and it resonates in every note that is played.

I’m still struggling with the idea of whether or not Rise Against can truly be identified with punk. In a post-Blink 182 world, the term punk revival seems to get thrown around whenever a 21st century band attempts to do anything punk-like. I recognize that never  again will The Ramones “wanna be sedated” and I feel confident that any future anarchy in the UK will pale in comparison to the Sex Pistols’. However, whatever Rise Against is doing, while popular or not, certainly feels more genuine than trendy. McIlrath made reference, at one point in the evening that it was “never more fun to play punk-rock than when you are in a beautiful place (like the Midland) that was made for an entirely different format.” Between the catchy riffs, the political lyrics, and the passion that reverberated from stage to floor on Wednesday night, any labels ceased to matter. Maybe punk has mainstreamed in a way that would have possibly made Sid Vicious cringe, but when it really comes down to it, people absolutely love Rise Against and once seeing them live, you understand why.

By Erin Tuttle

Photos By Rebecca Armstrong

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