This past weekend, I caught the Four Year Strong, Bad Religion and Rise Against show at the historic Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. The Aragon opened in 1926, and I’m sure the original attendees had no idea what was in store for their quaint dance hall.

The evening started with the Massachusetts band Four Year Strong. Being the opening band, space was a bit limiting for them, with drummer Jackson Massucco’s bass drum placed on the front edge of the stage, keeping the other members locked in place on either side. Other than that limitation, the guys of Four Year Strong brought the rock and kept the crowd energized throughout the set. Honestly, I was pretty surprised, since the sold out crowd was covered in Bad Religion and Rise Against shirts and I was worried that the audience was so pumped for the other bands that they weren’t going to give these guys a second look. I was wrong. Powering through song after song, the Worcester, Mass. quartet never let up. Their two singles, “Enemy of the World” and “Falling on You”, were met with fists in the air and a surge in the crowd.

The vibe at the Aragon changed as soon as Four Year Strong ended their set, with fans immediately getting into position for Bad Religion before the first band’s equipment had been cleared away. Bad Religion rushed the stage, and being an old punk, I’m happy to say these guys haven’t lost a step. The played like a well-oiled machine: tight, energetic and powerful. Lead singer Greg Graffin commanded attention as he showed the younger audience members how it’s done, even joking about their age and longevity between songs, “You know the song we are about to play came out in the 20th century.” Their set ran the gamut of their career, from their most recent album’s single “The Devil in Stitches” to classics like “21st (Century Digital Boy)”. The energy from the stage was palpable, causing their headlining performance at Riot Fest back in October of last year to pale in comparison. Bad Religion still puts on a hell of a show and other than a few grey hairs, they don’t show their age when tearing it up live.

As the time approached for Rise Against to take the stage, I noticed the background music in the Aragon was the greatest hits of Rage Against the Machine. Looking through the audience, you could see heads banging and fists in the air as everyone sang along, getting more and more frenzied. The Chicago punks opened with “Chamber the Cartridge”, off their 2006 release, The Sufferer & The Witness.

Fame hasn’t made the band sloppy, and it seems rather that it’s tightened them up. The technical precision of the guitars is impressive enough on the albums, but to see it just as tight live was awesome. These guys don’t need auto tune or tracked-in guitar parts or extras; what you see is what you get. This is straight up melodic punk in your face!

Guitarist Zach Blair and lead singer Tim Mcllrath covered every square inch of Aragon’s stage throughout the set. The energy and power emanating from them was staggering. The latest single, “Help is On The Way”, off of Endgame had the audience wound up as a fitting commentary on the BP oil disaster and Hurricane Katrina lacking relief efforts.

Towards the end of the set, the band left the stage and a solo Mcllrath returned with an acoustic guitar. The lights stayed low and the audience was a wall of lighters and cell phones as the frontman played the sentimental hit, “Swing Life Away”. This was followed by Mcllrath talking to the crowd about a hopeful time in the future when all U.S. soldiers return home, a perfect intro to the acoustic “Hero of War”. These two songs were all the break the crowd got. As the rest of the band came back to the stage, the lighters and cell phones went down and the energy and volume went up. They closed the show with “Ready to Fall”, sang by a crowd surfing Mcllrath. This was the second to last show of this tour and I think they went out with one hell of a bang.

Photos by Merrill McLennand