When: October 4, 2011
Where: Thunder Bay (Ont.) Community Auditorium
Headliner: Rise Against
Opening act: Flogging Molly
It has become something of a tradition. Every time emo-punk band Rise Against put out a new album, my friend, Sean, and I invariably make our way to one of their shows.
It started in 2007 while the Chicago-based crew was still touring on the heels of their album, The Sufferer & The Witness. Sean and I were working at a newspaper in Central Virginia at the time, and we decided to make the trek to Norfolk to see the group. It was definitely a solid outing.
A couple of years later, just days before Thanksgiving 2009, Sean and I met in Detroit to see the band play new stuff from Appeal To Reason. Rise Against headlined a show that included The Gaslight Anthem, Alkaline Trio and Thrice, and it absolutely rocked. For a while, that was my favorite concert-going experience.
Fast-forward to last week. Sean just returned to the States after a six-month stint in Jamaica. The last time I had seen him was when we went on our epic SXSW trip. The way the timing worked out, Rise Against was just wrapping up their tour for the album, Endgame, and the only date that worked out logistically was their show in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
I’d picked up my first passport earlier this year, so I was more than happy to break it in. Sean set out from NYC on Sunday and made the 12-plus-hour trip to South Bend. Then we embarked on our jaunt early Monday morning. The plan was to hang out with a friend in Milwaukee and crash in Duluth that night, head to Canada on Tuesday for the show, then make our way back to Milwaukee on Wednesday night.
I’ll skip all the minutiae, and just mention the highlights of the trip before delving into the concert itself:
- Meeting our friend, Audrey, for lunch in The Kee and walking around the grounds of UW-Milwaukee.
- Stopping off in Osseo, Wis., at Norske Nook Kaffe Hus and sharing four of the most amazing slices of pie I’ve ever had.
- Enjoying a tasty Oktoberfest meal (complete with proper brews) at Pickwick Restaurant in Duluth.
- Hiking along the shore and taking some amazing photos at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park near Two Harbors, Minn.
- Eating some awesome Havian BBQ Chicken pizza at Sven & Ole’s in Grand Marais, Minn.
- Walking around the quaint and bucolic downtown of Grand Marais.
- Driving through the Canadian countryside before sunset, marveling at the foliage and mountains.
- Realizing Ontario is on Eastern time and racing to find the concert venue.
- Rocking out to Flogging Molly and Rise Against.
- Stopping at a convenience store in Thunder Bay and smirking at all the subtle Canadian differences.
- Being detained at the border because the officers couldn’t understand why we traveled to Canada for a rock show.
- Stopping at a beef jerky factory outlet store in Minong, Wis., for several packages of jerky and a few packs of tasty Madison-brewed beverages.
- A return trip to Norske Nook for four more amazing slices of pie.
- A frenzied search for a cooler large enough to keep a banana cream pie cold for a few hours.
- A home-cooked dinner at Audrey’s followed by some bluegrass music and tasty brews at a neighborhood bar in The Kee.
- Skipping breakfast and holding out until we reached Portillo’s for lunch Thursday before returning to South Bend.
Now, back to the concert itself.
As I mentioned above, we were running late for the show and had no idea where the venue was located. My smart phone turned pretty dumb after crossing the border and I was unable to look up anything on a map.
Thankfully, we didn’t care at all about the opening act — Black Pacific — because we eventually found the place and walked in at about 8 p.m., just as the second act, Flogging Molly was taking the stage. They immediately tore into their most popular tune, “Drunken Lullabies”, as Sean and I found our seats.
Yes, I said seats. The show was taking place at Thunder Bay Community Auditorium, which had nothing but seats and a small orchestra pit. Much to Sean’s chagrin, we were not allowed access to the pit and were forced to thrash about in the small space between the rows of seats.
It was not ideal, but we made do.
I had never seen Flogging Molly before, but they absolutely killed it. There was just something totally badass about seeing six seasoned musicians lined up across the stage in front of the drummer, rocking out on their instruments. The way the were dressed to the nines and how expertly they played, they just looked like some sort of all-star team whose sole purpose was to rock my socks off.
To be honest, even though I only recognized a few of their songs, I think I might have had more fun watching Flogging Molly than I did the headliners. That’s nothing against Rise Against, but I’d already seen them a couple of times, so I guess the novelty has worn off a bit.
That being said, Rise Against still definitely brought it. I was jumping up and down within minutes and zeroed in on the band for the entire show. I will admit that I have a few critiques with the setlist.
They played 16 songs, followed by a three-song encore. After they set the place on fire with “Prayer of the Refugee”, they slowed things down with “Swing Life Away” and “Hero of War”.
During the latter, frontman Tim McIlrath had a string break on his acoustic guitar, which took a few minutes to fix.
So, after that extended period of tameness, they followed it with a medium-paced song, “Audience of One”, which ended up creating this long lull in the show. They only had one song, “Architects” before closing out the set with “Ready To Fall”. Normally, the place would be shaking at that point, but because of that lull — not to mention the confining seats — the crowd wasn’t as lively as it could have been.
The encore was average. They did play “Give It All”, which is one of Sean’s favorites, but they played it second and closed with “Savior”. I would’ve closed with a hit to send the crowd out on as high a note as possible.
But these are minor nitpicks. I still enjoyed the show immensely and can’t wait for the next album — and, of course, the ensuing tour.