Tim McIlrath of Rise Against at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on May 4 (Ashley Ramynke / L.A. Times College Insider)
Santiago Canyon College

Songs and storytelling: Rise Against’s acoustic performance of ‘The Ghost Note Symphonies, Vol. 1’ in Downtown L.A.

Amongst the gothic architecture and religious artifacts of The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles sat an eclectic collection of punks awaiting to see band Rise Against shed the intensity common of their live shows for a serene acoustic set on May 4.

The band composed of vocalist and guitarist Tim McIlrath, guitarist Zach Blair, bassist Joe Principe and drummer Brandon Barnes released the acoustic record “The Ghost Note Symphonies, Vol. 1” in mid-2018.

Produced by Bill Stevenson of punk band the Descendents at his Colorado recording studio the Blasting Room Studios, the record is constructed of ten tracks spanning over five of Rise Against’s studio records performed acoustically and with different symphony musicians.

Touring the record only in their native Chicago, Denver and L.A., the band’s distinctive punk sound and onstage intensity was replaced with newfound tranquility and nostalgic storytelling.

“This is like the first time that we’ve addressed a sitting crowd. Normally if there are chairs, our crowds are ripping them out and throwing them, which is what usually happens,” McIlrath said onstage. “But we never thought that we’d be allowed in beautiful places like this.”

Rise Against at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on May 5, 2019 (Photo by Ashley Ramynke)
Rise Against at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on May 4. (Photo by Ashley Ramynke)

Opening the set with “The Violence,” which has recently been receiving airtime on local alternative radio station KROQ, the audience sat in awe as the band played stationary while white and blue lights protruded from the back of the stage and bathed over them.

The acoustic set accompanied by three string musicians allowed the intellectual lyrics, dripping with themes of political activism and the human condition, to breathe.

Playing acoustically also allowed for the depth and range of McIlrath’s voice to become apparent and project across the theatre as the serene acoustic and symphonic sounds filled the backdrop.  

The band’s ability to adapt and evolve as musicians while continuously reinforcing a distinctive sound and message of activism since their early years with independent record label Fat Wreck Chords, and transition into the mainstream with major record labels, is largely contributed to other bands within the scene.

“We were so lucky to be apart of the Fat Wreck Chords family [and] to have No Use for a Name take us under their wing. They were a lot of bands like No Use for a Name that showed us the ropes, showed us not just how to be a band, but how to be a band for more than one record,” McIlrath said onstage. “Bands like No Use for a Name paved the way for bands like Rise Against. Sadly enough, the singer Tony Sly passed away a few years ago. I want to play one of his songs right now because I think Tony would want us to celebrate and not just be sad.”

Acknowledging the role of No Use for a Name in helping Rise Against establish themselves as a prominent name in contemporary punk rock, McIlrath paid tribute to the late Sly with a cover of their 2005 song “For Fiona.”

The cover of “For Fiona” was also released on the 2013 record “The Revival Tour 2012 Collections.” The Revival Tour also featured folk punk musician Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music and is one of the many ways that Ragan and Rise Against’s paths have crossed over the decades.

This sense of nostalgia came full circle as Rise Against brought Ragan to be the opener for the two shows in L.A. Clad with his acoustic guitar and harmonica, Ragan delivered sweet folk harmonies that set the calm essence that set the tone transitioning into Rise Against’s set.

“It feels like not too long ago, I was a 17-year-old kid in the very front row of Hot Water Music shows in Chicago,” said McIlrath onstage.

Chuck Ragan at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on May 5, 2019 (Photo by Ashley Ramynke)
Chuck Ragan at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on May 4. (Photo by Ashley Ramynke)

Continuing with this sense of nostalgia prominent throughout the night, Rise Against acknowledged the anniversary of the Kent State shooting that occurred 49 years prior.

As a band, they are no strangers to activism and the band reinforced to their audience how songs like the “Ohio,” released by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1971, still hold true in regards to its message and as an example of the role of music through activism.

“It’s the anniversary of the Kent State shooting in Ohio, a long time ago when armed services filled on activist protesting the Vietnam War. And I think a day like today can remind us just how powerful our voices are and just how much of a threat our voices really are to the establishment,” McIlrath said onstage. “Because it was the overwhelming anti-war voices that really brought [the] Vietnam [War] to a close, far too late really. But there’s so much to learn from this day, but also from the songs that were written about this day.”

Further addressing the audience between songs, it became apparent that the audience has an undeniable devotion to Rise Against. When the band is stripped of their punk intensity and stands stationary in this relatively small and elaborate theatre, it evokes a newfound vulnerability playing acoustically that creates a sense of community between the audience and band.

“One of the things that I feel like in this grand endeavor that we’ve done over the last 20 years, and the things that you’ve taught us, there’s been these running themes,” McIlrath said onstage. “And a lot of commonalities between the people that gravitate towards this music. And this song is about one of those themes, it’s about not waiting for our relying on something else to change your life with knowing that you can do it.”

As the set encompassed forgotten songs and covers to radio hits dwindled to its conclusion, the energy was resurged as the audience chanted the anthemic lyrics “Don’t hold me up now/I can stand my own ground/I don’t need your help now.”

With an undeniable sense of community established between the audience and band through songs and storytelling, this anthemic ending left the audience resurged in the artistry of Rise Against to evoke such emotions anytime they perform.

“There was no blueprint with Rise Against. We didn’t follow any rules. There wasn’t some master plan to be standing here. We just kind of went with our gut. And you guys always held us accountable, and we trusted you and you trusted us and that’s why we’re still here,” said McIlrath onstage.

Rise Against at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on May 5, 2019 (Photo by Ashley Ramynke)
Rise Against at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on May 4. (Photo by Ashley Ramynke)


  1. The Violence
  2. Like the Angel
  3. Audience Of One
  4. Far From Perfect
  5. Hero Of War
  6. House On Fire
  7. Wait For Me
  8. Savior
  9. For Fiona (No Use for a Name Cover)
  10. Everchanging
  11. People Live Here
  12. Voices Off Camera
  13. Faint Resemblance
  14. Do You Still Hate Me? (Jawbreaker Cover)
  15. Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Cover)
  16. Roadside
  17. Miracle
  18. Swing Life Away
  19. Prayer Of The Refugee