Now that co-headlining tours are the norm, it was only natural for The Used and Rise Against to team up at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday, July 16. The disaffected grown adults convened under the glare of blazing sun – and the struggles of being alternative in the summer were felt in this largely black-clad crowd. Thankfully, this lineup packed “so many power chords in one tour,” as Reddit user lethalred put it.
But it wasn’t just a two-fer, as post-hardcore veterans Senses Fail opened the concert with showmanship in spades. Whatever your thoughts on how they ended up on this ticket, they owned old reliables like “Lady in a Blue Dress” and “Can’t Be Saved,” while edging into a rollicking snippet for Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade” at closing.
This was The Used’s first stop on the tour – which technically started in Las Vegas the previous night – and they wielded their hooks of yore with deft precision. The post-hardcore titans had those fan faves on deck as the hooks on “I Caught Fire” and “The Taste of Ink” hit as hard as ever. But the hourlong setlist also made way for new-ish tracks like 2019’s “Blow Me,” complete with a death metal breakdown.
Frontman Bert McCracken’s voice still had the scream wattage cranked up in patches, although bassist Jeph Howard and guitarist Joey Bradford did come through with the supplementary growls. On standout “The Bird and the Worm,” it’s no wonder that with only four members on stage, the band ripped out the orchestral guts for a more concise, sludgier rendition.
As the “NO Moshing” sign loomed ahead of the GA area, McCracken orchestrated a two-line split in the pit while declaring, “At a metal show, we call this the wall of death, but since we’re an emo band, we call this the wall of love!” The parted seas did, in fact, run at each other like a pack of wild animals as the opening riff of “Pretty Handsome Awkward” blared. The Lies for the Liars cut swaddled in metal trappings, drummer Dan Whitesides went chopper mode with the double bass drums of death while Howard rumbled out those guttural low notes.
Then the circle pit took the semblance of a miniature track meet while McCracken recited a soliloquy from Hamlet – as he is wont to do. At this point, the Used launched into a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” lead-in that faded into “A Box Full of Sharp Objects” then morphed back into a medley with the Nirvana classic. It’s safe to say there was no butt-rock here … only “Buttsex Is Itchy” tees.
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Fog ensnares the stage as the sound system flips through soundbites from stories about refugees. It has the dramatic heft of a blockbuster movie as the members of Rise Against run on stage and waste no time launching into “Prayer of the Refugee,” which they volley into a start-stop dynamic between the verses and chorus.
That economic use of time is embedded in the punk stalwarts’ discog – which is littered with BPMs that scrape the 190s. In other words, they play fast.
By the time “Satellite” rolled around, it felt like the Chicago-formed outfit had moved the Overton Window on the soft-loud dynamic by rendering it loud .. and extra loud. Then came the breakdown that swung back around to a walloping reprise with a speakerphone monologue courtesy of frontman Tim McIlrath.
For their third time at the Bowl, RA filled the setlist with the crowd pleasers. “Give It All” equated to pop-punk adjacent bliss, while “Ready to Fall” packed a punch with that “standing on the rooftop” hook. Then there was “Survive,” a stronghold of killer fretwork brought to life by guitarist Zach Blair’s stuttered riffs.
But it’s not a Rise Against show without politics. Ahead of “Collapse (Post-Amerika),” McIlrath delivered a speech on what a revolution is not, listing the forms of bigotry not accepted in the fight for progress. “I’m here to tell you that you’re in the wrong fucking revolution with that shit,” he said. Their gospel of leftism took the form of heavy riffs, mic swinging, and plenty of head banging in an athletic command of the stage. For 20 years, the band has been performing, as the frontman said, “songs about change, songs about awareness, songs about family” – and they’re not stopping now.
YouTube user Geoffrey Gardner caught The Used and Rise Against’s full sets. Watch below.