Chemical Reaction

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The double bill of Rise Against and My Chemical Romance, which drew a capacity crowd to DU's Magness Arena last night, was a study in contrasts. Rise Against is all about seriousness and sincerity and really meaning it, man, while My Chemical Romance celebrates the art of artifice. And on this evening, anyway, artifice won.

That's not to say Rise Against's performance didn't have stirring moments. Vocalist Tim McIlrath wailed with undeniable passion throughout current faves like "Ready to Fall" and "Prayer of the Refugee," as well as on less radio-friendly fare, and his band rocked with a working-class conviction that transcended the stage. After the set, bassist Joe Principe strolled the arena's floor, casually hanging with fans clearly astonished to be jawing with the very guy who'd helped prompt the usual frenzy of head bobbing only moments earlier.

Nevertheless, virtually everything about Rise Against is eighth-hand, from its man-the-barricades persona to its ultra-familiar iconography, which included a scrawled illustration of a raised fist and the juxtaposition of an agit-prop text about ethics with a skateboarding clip. Even though such elements have been in use for three decades now, they still work -- but they'd seem a lot fresher had Rise Against chosen to tweak them, rather than simply fashioning a reproduction.

Of course, the latest material from My Chemical Romance has plenty of historical precedents, too, as the players readily concede; the first song played during the break between sets was Queen's "Death on Two Legs." Still, the cheeky twist given such material by MCR leader Gerard Way, who Westword interviewed in July 2005, infuses it with new life. The Black Parade, the band's latest disc, is, at base, an old-fashioned rock opera, and the decision to perform it from start to finish could have proven fatal. Instead, the players delivered the tunes with enough brio and glee to make their essential goofiness an asset, not a debit. In this context, Way's frequent shout-outs to "Denver!," not to mention his ass-shaking, finger-fluttering poses and vogueing, were transformed from de rigueur cliches to post-ironic gestures of the most enjoyable sort.

At this point, the Romancers don't have the budget to fully realize their theatrical dreams. The two zeppelin-shaped balloons they brought out during "Welcome to the Black Parade" won't make anyone forget about inflatable piggies floating over stadiums during '70s-era Pink Floyd shows; the black-and-white blimps were about the size of the helium-filled burritos that drop Chipotle coupons during Avs games. If the flashpots, pyrotechnics and confetti cannons weren't anything special, though, they epitomized Way's desire to deliver as much big fun as possible, and in this, he certainly succeeded. There were more smiles in the room than I've seen at any large-scale modern-rock gig in recent memory.

After polishing off The Black Parade, Way and company returned with new duds and a backdrop that referred to their 2004 breakthrough CD, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. This made sense logistically, but was something of a dramatic letd0wn in practice. At the time of its release, Revenge stood out from the rest of the emocore pack by dint of Way's over-the-top lyrics and burgeoning Brechtian sensibility. Now, however, most of the numbers, with the notable exception of the finale, "Helena," lack the personality of their Parade successors. Besides, the confetti wad had already been shot.

Even so, the My Chem boosters left the building on a daffy high, as well they should have. Rise Against may have dealt with more meaningful subjects, but in the end, show business ruled the night. -- Michael Roberts


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