Tim McIlrath enjoys doling out song dedications as much as Casey Kasem ever did.
At a sold-out and sweaty 9:30 Club on Tuesday, the front man/vocalist for hyper-sincere Chicago rockers Rise Against rarely let a tune go by without sending it out to somebody. McIlrath, who like the rest of the band espouses vegetarianism, hailed PETA before roaring “Heads Unworthy,” one of many tales of adolescent disaffection in the band’s canon.
He sang “Hero of War” for both a soldier just back from Afghanistan named Mac and the GI advocates group Iraq Veterans Against the War. The tune, a tale of a young man’s journey from recruitment into the military to disillusionment with the war machine, started off with McIlrath crooning alone and strumming an acoustic guitar, a la ELP’s “Lucky Man.” But just as the protagonist soldier gets to telling about killing an innocent civilian, McIlrath screamed and the whole band kicked in out of nowhere. The mood inside the club returned to bedlam, and, other than when McIlrath was making a dedication, stayed there.
If the earnest and wholesome bandleader wasn't talking, guitarist Zach Blair and bass player Joe Principe could likely be seen leaping around like mad men behind him to drummer Brandon Barnes’ pounding. The crowd leaped and shouted along during “Re-Education (Through Labor),” a fist-pump friendly ditty decrying the worker-bee existence.
At the end of his set, McIlrath gave thanks for the musical and life inspiration he got from bands in D.C.’s hardcore music scene of the early 1980s, then set off the mosh pit one last time with “Give It All.”
That same local scene also got a shoutout during the opening and more giggly set by pop-punk fixtures Bad Religion. After closing with “Sorrow,” yet another short, fast tuneful blast of the sort the band has become beloved around the world for, bassist Jay Bentley screamed “Thank you for Brian Baker!” to the crowd, referring to the longtime Bad Religion guitarist and former member of first-wave D.C. hardcore band Minor Threat.