Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom was alight with punk-rock anthems on Tuesday night thanks to veteran performers Against Me! On tour for their new record, Shape Shift with Me, Laura Jane Grace and company took the audience on a positive vibes only trip of the bands fifteen years worth of music.
Against Me! is a Florida-based punk-rock outfit focused on socio-anarchist political leanings and a general theme of dissolving the status quo. In 2012, their lead single publically announced a history of gender dysphoria and their ongoing pursuit to transition from male to female. Subsequent releases have reflected Laura’s personal struggle, featuring a shift in tone and subject matter, with a heavy focus on gender issues.
Opening to “True Trans Soul Rebel”, Laura’s strength as a performer is immediately apparent: vocally dominant and infectiously positive, it’s obvious how this band has managed to stay relevant for such a long time. With strong support from longtime guitarist James Bowman, bassist Inge Johansson, and the incredibly tight drumming of Atom Willard, Against Me! is a powerhouse of talent.
The strongest element of the night, though, was the crowd! Very rarely do you witness an audience with such dedication to a band. Every song turned into a sing-a-long with huge sums of people crowd surfing the night away, lunging at Grace with grins across their face and the words of the band filling their mouths. One red-haired super-fan was seen atop the crowd more than fastened to the floor and seemed to know the words to every – single – song. No exaggeration.
There was a major focus on their more contemporary tunes (“333”, “Unconditional Love”, “Crash”) but in good performer fashion, they provided plenty of fan service by running through some deep cuts like “Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%” and “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong”: the latter being a personal favourite as there is nothing like hearing everyone in the house scream “and just like James, I’ll be drinking Irish tonight!”.
As a group, Against Me! is in a phase of change that seems to be providing immense happiness to not only the band but anyone struggling with the feeling of being an outsider or uncomfortable in their own skin. This is nothing new to punk or alternative streams of music – in fact, it’s something of a tenet for the genre – but it is no less important or impactful. To see Against Me! reaching their greatest pinnacle of success after fifteen years in the game is both inspiring and awesome.