Shows on back to back nights is always a tall order. When the second of those two shows follows up an incredible performance by Blind Guardian on Halloween? Well, good luck. Regardless of expectations, the excitement was still there for my first Rise Against show. And knowing their performance was going to be set up by local legends Killswitch Engage was a good thing as well. While I had seen the latter several times, it had been over half a decade since I had last watched them take a stage. Taking all factors into consideration, I was definitely able to walk away from this show with plenty of positives.
A big part of the success of this concert was its location. Instead of having to trek to Boston or Worcester again, this particular show took place at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. This is a mostly standing room venue about 15 miles from Portsmouth that can hold about 2000. On this particular night the place was sold out. Let’s be clear. I don’t like Hampton Beach. Actually, that’s not strong enough. I hate Hampton Beach. It’s scummy, it’s poorly maintained, and it’s an absolute disaster in the summer. Yet, a local show is a local show. For that I was grateful.
My group arrived at the venue just in time for the opening act, letlive., to begin. As I was searching for other friends and, more importantly, beer their post hardcore sounds filled the air around us with a notable quality. I’m not privy to their discography enough to speak to any tracks specifically, but they brought the intensity in all the right ways for an opening act. Also, their sound fit a niche that worked with the sounds of the subsequent bands nicely. But then Killswitch Engage took the stage.
I know we rag on these guys, and virtually any other metalcore band, almost constantly. But I was still curious to see what they would do. As I mentioned, it had been some time since I last saw them live and it would be the first time I saw them live fronted by Jesse Leach, who returned to the band in 2012. Their performance, in all reality, was solid. The sound engineering was adequate. Some of the guitars lacked a bit of bite and the percussion wasn’t as pronounced as it could have been, but overall the sound was fine. The setlist was all over the map, which I appreciated. While I completely lost interest in this band during the Howard Jones years, hearing tracks like “Vide Infra” and “Life to Lifeless” from Alive of Just Breathing was a welcomed trip down memory lane. Of course, these were mixed in with the crowd favorites like “My Curse” and the set-closing “The End of Heartache”, but that was expected. Adam D. was running around in full amusement as he always has been and Jesse delivered plenty of aggression on vocals. It was a set that I personally appreciated and it was performed quite well. In fact, it was quite apparent that a good portion of the crowd was here exclusively for Killswitch Engage, and the band reflected that crowd-generated energy.
Rise Against, of course, was the headliner we were all waiting for. I had never seen them before, and I’ve always enjoyed their particular form of hardcore punk. In fact, 2006’s The Sufferer & The Witness is one of my favorite albums of all time. Fortunately enough, four tracks were featured from this album this night. “Survive”, “The Good Left Undone”, “Prayer of the Refugee”, and “Ready to Fall” were all included. Obviously, this set included popular tracks from the full Rise Against catalog, including “Satellite” and the concluding “Savior”. They even explored all the way back to Revolutions Per Minute for the incorporation of “Black Masks & Gasoline”, which was a welcomed dose of energy towards the later stages of the set. Before moving into the two-track encore, Tim McIlrath took the stage for acoustic performances of “Hero of War” and “Swing Life Away”, which was pretty cool. All around, it was a quality set.
Unfortunately, as a result of the mixing and venue acoustics, there were definitely moments where some of the intricacies that define Rise Against got lost. The sound felt energized, but somewhat cluttered. The vocals sounded solid throughout, but it was the guitar leads that tended to become overwhelmed in the chaos. Not a huge deal, but a definite sign that this was, in fact, the first leg of this U.S. tour. Did it matter to the crowd? Hardly. The passion was there and the crowd responded to it in full voice. These are relatively minor concerns in an otherwise impressive performance.
Two shows in two days, and very different experiences for each of them. From power metal to hardcore punk, there was a lot to appreciate about the whole thing. In the latter show, Rise Against and Killswitch Engage proved that they are crowd favorites for a reason, and both delivered to expectations. Different sounds, to be sure, but both were received with open arms and full voices by a very mixed crowd at the Casino Ballroom. Not bad if I do say so myself.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”