It seemed absurd to see Rise Against perform a “symphony.”
Yet Sunday night, the band incorporated different stringed instruments into its traditionally punk repertoire at its “The Ghost Note Symphonies” concert in The Theatre at Ace Hotel. While the majority of the band’s old punk songs were well-executed, others did not weather the stripped-down transition well. Overall, it was a worthy experiment, but could easily feel repetitious or even pretentious if attempted again.
The band only toured the album in three cities: Chicago, Los Angeles and Denver. The band’s lead singer Tim McIlrath addressed the limited tour and thanked the audience for coming to a Rise Against concert drastically different from the norm. McIlrath said the audience’s presence showed how much it cared about the band because it was interested in the experimental album.
But before Rise Against began its set, folk and punk rock artist Chuck Ragan opened the show with his original song “For Goodness Sake.” The track fell in step with the concert’s overall theme – acoustic songs by primarily punk artists. Ragan delivered an intense performance by pushing his vocal range to the limit, despite his raspy voice, rendering many lyrics unintelligible. Many audience members, however, did not seem to mind and readily sang along with him, indicating familiarity with his solo work.
When the members of Rise Against finally emerged – with an additional three musicians playing the cello, upright bass and violin – they were lit by large clear orbs attached to thin metal stands placed around the stage. While the concert started with an acoustic version of one of its hit songs “The Violence,” the soft lighting complemented the somewhat gentle musical tones and soothed the eager crowd. The band utilized newfound tranquility to create poignant climaxes during which spotlights behind the band flared to life, temporarily blinding the audience.
When McIlrath’s guitar relented before the deep and resonating sound of the cello, it became evident why the band decided to explore a new musical genre. Background musicians masterfully wove string instruments into the band’s songs and emphasized emotional dimensions, such as falling out of love, which can be lost in the band’s typically angsty tone.
“Audience Of One” again featured the interspersing of string-only moments. McIlrath’s vocals garnered the nostalgia necessary to accompany such poignant instruments by changing out his usual screaming for a softer melodic voice.
Three songs into the set, McIlrath finally addressed the audience to point out that the acoustic music was quite different from what Rise Against normally plays. But despite the drastic change in musical style, the middle-aged band members still dressed like their 20-year-old selves, in hoodies or simple button-downs paired with jeans. In line with the casual outfits, McIlrath addressed the audience with a nonchalant use of expletives – some things never change.
But “Far From Perfect” showcased problems sometimes inherent with too many instruments. Drums overpowered string instruments as the track began, but the strings soon picked up intensity. The guitar then overwhelmed all of the other instruments. The battle for dominance gave rise to jarring and unpleasant changes in pace multiple times throughout the song.
“Voices Off Camera” introduced a piano to the already-expanded range of instruments. While the set and instruments created a sorrowful tone, the song relied too much on McIlrath’s vocals. There is no doubt that he is a talented singer, but he was unable to reach a caliber of enough merit to carry the song.
The band ended with the acoustic version of one of its most popular songs, “Prayer Of The Refugee.” While the rendition was pleasant, it felt like a letdown as the final track of the night. It would have been more satisfying to hear the original version, as it is one of the band’s most notably upbeat, punk songs. The red and lime green lighting gave a bizarre Christmas mood to the stage, contrasting the somber themes in the song.
McIlrath said the whole album was an experiment. And while it was an intriguing auditory change, it felt more like a trinket. The peculiar nature of slowing down a punk song should only be experienced once.