There's something about the punk rock of Northern California's Rancid will remain forever and indelibly ingrained in Aftermath's heart. No matter what we seem to find ourselves getting into, all we need to hear is a few spins of ...And Out Come The Wolves to bring us back to our liberty-spiked, snotty roots. The band's working class romanticism and brotherhood ethos has struck a chord with us for nearly a decade and a half.
It seems that whenever the band hits town on tours that have been rather sporadic in the past few years, we become wide-eyed punkers again with our fists in the air and one of their chants busting out of our lungs. We hear detractors and former fans deriding their sound as corny and derivative, but that has never tainted our attraction to the four burly and tattooed guys from Oakland. To us, they have been older and cooler uncles that show up whenever we need them the most to set us straight.
On Saturday night, the band came as the middle support to Rise Against, a massively popular politically-aware nu-punk band with plenty of vitriol and soul to propel them as far as they want. The crowd was radically split between the two bands, with a chosen few able to see the parallels between both and enjoy them just the same. More on RA later...
Rancid's set was adorned with all the familiar hallmarks of their live shows. The "Armstrong Ave." sign adorning lead singer and guitarist Tim Armstrong amp setup, the scorched Earth imagery being projected onto a white sheet at the back of the stage, and the stoic energy of the band's bounding guitarist Lars Frederiksen. The latter becomes with each passing year a sort of mythical father figure to the street-punk crowd. The smoking section out in front of the venue was awash with stories of Lars' charitableness when it comes to young local bands in each city.
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The band came out swinging with 2003's hit single "Fall Back Down", which always has a funny way of appearing to us right when we need it. The lyrical content, hearkening to a brotherhood that knows only support and love is one that is far too absent in the rock world in general. It seems no matter what issues we may have, that opening bass line washes those damn blues away.
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With the band slotted in the middle of Canadian pop-punkers Billy Talent and RA, quick work had to be done with the band's nearly twenty-year discography during their just shy of an hour set. A handful of songs from this year's Let The Dominoes Fall perked up the novices in the crowd, and the other stellar seminal swingers from Let's Go and the aforementioned Wolves kept the pit churning and pinned us down with a joyous grin. The acoustic "Civilian Ways" is about a young soldier coming home to the States after a hellish tour in the Middle East and feeling detached, and haunted by the ghosts of his fallen friends. It made for a poignant and endearing moment for the crowd, especially Aftermath's own Iraq War vet cousin who was in the crowd with her fiancée.
Headliners Rise Against, led by ferocious howler Tim McIIrath, burn with an intensity rarely found on modern rock radio. Sure guys like Shinedown and Godsmack can bring the pain but it seems that Rise Against are the only ones doing it with a political conscience. And with the bands pummeling assault and McIIrath's lung-busting vocals, there's no wonder that we saw at least a dozen kids go over the barricade and out of the pit during each song. Massive singles like "Re-Education (Through Labor)" and "Give It All" had the flailing across the stage and the security guards busy all night long. The band traffics in the same dissent and vinegar that Rage Against The Machine made so catchy and all the while profitable. But that is not to say that what they do is rote or boring. If anything they are bringing a taste of counter-culture fire to radio playlists that would otherwise wholly vanilla and apolitical.
Hell, if it sounds good and it stands for shit, there is nothing much else you need in this world. We may not understand Rise Against completely and the kids sitting down in the lobby during Rancid may be stumped by the band's old-school sprawl, but we were all there for one thing.