There are bands that stick with you for a certain moment in your life. That make sense in that moment, but that you laugh at later, wondering why you liked them or shared this information with people who know you now. And there are bands that grow with you for your whole life, that constantly seem to be in tune with the rhythm of your step, that are always singing the soundtrack of your life. Against Me! is the latter for me.
There was a time when three-hour sets in never-to-be-seen-again houses were the norm for me with this band. Where I would inform the beautiful pre-med students in front of me that they may want to finish that beer before the set begins and the push forward commences. Where I would leave the show with bruises as souvenirs and where I once walked out of a show with what felt like a broken back after having been dropped during a crowd surf cut tragically short, as if I had gotten into a fight with Bain. This was not that kind of show. And I am glad, for the show fit my mood, and who I am, as this band always seems to. (It also saved my back.)
I haven’t seen Against Me! in over a year. When I saw them last summer (once in Portland, once in Reno) they were headlining a tour with Andrew Jackson Jihad and Joyce Manor. The show was a little after the Rolling Stone article had come out telling Laura Jane Grace’s story. Both shows were amazing, and it was great to see old friends from Florida on the other side of the states.
Fast-forward to October 10th of this year, and they were opening for Gaslight Anthem at The Civic Theatre. Some of the band is different, but Laura Jane Grace still leads Against Me!, a band that started out with her singing in a laundromat, at the time only known to the world as Tom Gabel. Now she is Laura Jane Grace, a major rock icon and inspiration to many (including myself.) Guitarist James Bowman (and good friend of Laura’s) remains. Grace has a new AOL webseries called “True Trans” that came out the day of the show; the band also has a new album, titled “Transgender Dysphoria Blues.” The album shows off everything from Graces’ sexual identity to her renowned love of Bob Dylan.
The set started out with “Pints of Guinness Make You Stronger” a track off their first album “Reinventing Axl Rose” that invokes sing-alongs the second the first chord is struck. The song immediately got the crowd pushing up, while testing the new equipment of The Civic Theatre. Against Me! played songs off all of their albums. Past singles such as “Don’t Lose Touch” and “New Wave” as well as songs like “Cliché Guevara” and a different version of “How Low” that reminded me of their first cut. They played “Osama bin Laden as the Crucified Christ” off the new album (as well as a song whose title I can’t write on this site.) It is a testament to the band’s ability, and their fans, that throughout the show there was always someone around me singing the songs, no matter how old or new, whether it was a single or the equivalent of a lost track.
The band was having fun onstage too, especially friends James and Laura. James did his patented stomp to the beat and bobble head, while also adding a little booty shake that I believe is new to his repertoire. Laura sucked helium from a balloon before thanking the crowd, deconstructing her own rock voice.
The band ended the set with “Thrash Unreal” and “Black Me Out” which had everyone singing along, the entire audience buzzing with the band.
In the end, you listen to music for the ride. It used to be a physical ride of the crowd, the fighting and crying of my youth, moments of complete exhaustion and extrovert-ness being afforded via the anonymity of a crowd inundated with sound. Of singing along with some of my best friends, moments that we looked forward to every year, our own personal holiday. Of the teenage angst of when I first heard them and blasted them in my car, playing guitar and having sing-alongs on the beach. I love this band. The ride feels different, as I am no longer the same person. But I still thoroughly enjoy myself. I still connect with them in ways that I do with no other band. Walking through my home of the last few years to get to a venue I’ve never been to, and enjoying a concert by myself with some single-serving friends. I basked in the nostalgia, as well as the current connection, being more in tune with myself and my struggles, my character, and my tragedies, and I felt I was watching friends on stage who feel the same. More at peace then we once were, still fighting for what we are and what we one day might be. I didn’t get to see Laura or James after the show, people I consider friends, people who through their music and camaraderie at shows really helped me at one of the lowest moments in my life. Even without me ever sharing what I was going through. And I didn’t get to share any personal words with them tonight. But I did share some songs, and it was a great feeling, which I haven’t had in too long. For I have such happy moments listening to their music as well. And I can’t thank them enough.