Straight Edge

Rise Against (from left): Chris Chasse, Brandon Barnes, Tim McIlrath, and Joe Principe

This summer , the Chicago punk band Rise Against saw its fourth album, The Sufferer & the Witness, début at number ten on Billboard magazine’s album charts. It was an unexpected payoff for a quartet that had steadily built a fan base among skateboard nation by touring relentlessly and contributing songs to Tony Hawk video games .

But like bands the Dead Kennedys and Bad Religion before them, the politically minded members of Rise Against aim to move minds as well as moshing bodies. “I’d go to Fireside Bowl on weekends, and it opened my eyes,” says singer and guitarist Tim McIlrath, of his teenage punk education. “I knew from that point on that if somebody gave me a stage, a microphone, and an audience, that I would use it not just to entertain.”

Aided by a slot on the Warped skatepunk cavalcade, The Sufferer & the Witness has since tallied impressive sales of more than 150,000 copies. On a national tour to support the album, Rise Against touches down in its hometown for a November 14th show at the Congress Theatre.

The response to the new album eased the band’s fears about whether their message was reaching people. “There’s certainly times when I’ve wondered, Are we making a difference? Maybe this isn’t having the impact we wanted,” McIlrath says. “You have a crisis of faith.”

Rise Against plays the Congress Theatre (2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.) on November 14th. For tickets, call 312-559-1212.

An Arlington Heights native, the 27-year-old McIlrath formed Rise Against in 1999 with bassist Joe Principe (a veteran of local pop-punk band 88 Fingers Louie) and drummer Brandon Barnes. Chris Chasse, the latest in a line of guitarists, rounds out the group. Over the course of four records, Rise Against has moved from raw punk to an increasingly melodic sound-taking some heat from hardcore purists along the way. On The Sufferer & the Witness, the band maintains its hurtling velocity and hornet’s-nest guitar buzz, but the combination of soaring choruses and high-precision twists and turns gives the album a more polished and complex sound.

“A lot of this record was coming from the perspective of someone so overwhelmed with everything that you don’t know where to turn anymore,” McIlrath explains. “This record was coming to terms with that. Do I keep looking for the light at the end of the tunnel or do I just give up?”

Instead of losing hope, the band has continued to advocate for a variety of causes. All vegetarians, the members of Rise Against have allied themselves in particular with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, most recently lending support to a successful campaign to persuade J. Crew to stop selling fur. Explains McIlrath: “We’re representing a brand of music that’s trying to create awareness and be a part of something bigger than just ourselves.”

Talking Trash
Ira Glass v. Beau O’Reilly!

Photoillustration: John Ueland

Which medium rules: radio or theatre? The Rhinoceros Theater Festival pits stories by public radio darling Ira Glass against solo performances by Curious Theatre Branch founder Beau O’Reilly in a live duel November 12th at the School of the Art Institute (112 S. Michigan Ave.). Robert Buscemi picked each pugilist’s brain pre-battle.

>>Buscemi calls Ira Glass in New York.
Q: How important is victory to you?
I’ll settle for nothing less. I’m doing this for my radio station, my listeners, and the medium I love. And I’m going up against an art form that hasn’t changed in 600 years, since the invention of the proscenium arch. And theatre people are sensitive. Beau is a tremendously sensitive man. I’m going to use that against him.

Q: Ideas for a battle flag?
Glass: Call me a traditionalist, but I’d go with the skull and crossbones.

Q: Final thoughts?
This is the strangest interview I’ve ever had.

>>Buscemi then calls Beau O’Reilly and shares Glass’s smack. O’Reilly snorts audibly.
Q: What do you imagine Glass said he’d use for his battle flag?
A croissant? Or a muffin or something?

Q: Do you think Glass has gotten soft?
He’s always been soft. What would surprise me is if he’s gotten hard. These radio guys are all just smoke. He’s got nothing.

Q: Final taunts?
Everybody thinks they’re there to see Glass, so I have to subvert their expectations. Because it’s all about me. People make theatre because they need theatre. People turn on the radio because it’s plugged in.

For Rhino Fest tickets, call 773-539-7838 or go to