I was going to see Against Me! for the first time when they were touring with Bad Religion last year but unfortunately, they had to drop from the billing due to a fragmented group. So safe to say, this time around I wasn’t going to miss out.
Eric, Chris, and I met up with Adrian at the Commodore and Cheap Girls took the stage not long after. A 3-piece band made up of two brothers, Ian and Ben Graham on bass/lead vocals and drums/back-up vocals respectively, and Adam Aymor on guitar, Cheap Girls started giving me ‘90s flashbacks right away. Their sounds sounded like really basic ‘90s rock that you’d hear on every episode of Melrose Place back in its heyday on whatever Fox channel it was your TV picked up. They played about 10 songs, each of which was different yet still sounded the same. I’d never call Cheap Girls a bad band but for their live performance that night, you’d have to really want to roll the music clock back 20 years or so to really get into it.
Laura Stevenson, who formerly played as Laura Stevenson & the Cans, has been making music for quite a while now, not only on her own but also as the keyboardist for Bomb The Music Industry!. I’d never heard her music before but Adrian is a pretty damn avid fan so he stitched together a setlist for me:
A Shine To It
(New song; maybe cover? She’d said something about a new one and now an old one just before playing The Healthy One, so we’re leaning towards a new song)
The Healthy One
and to close, Master of Art
From what I heard, I was a fan. She’s got a real sweet voice and her bandmates seemed to work well together and were having a good time. Well, all of the band members except the drummer. I don’t know how long he’d been with the band but he was taking an excessive amount of cues from the others and wasn’t really hitting things as tightly as he should’ve been. I’m going to assume he hadn’t been playing with them very long, and had probably been signed up for the job as a last-minute-ish fill-in, so I wouldn’t want to blame him for it but if he’d been practicing with the band for more than a few months, then there’s not much of an excuse. So Laura Stevenson: real good but maybe needs more practice time with their current touring drummer.
So after the somewhat strange opening ‘90s rock and indie rock, the lights went out on the set and blue spotlights hit the stage and Against Me! came out and got right into the mind-numbingly unfortunately named ‘FUCKMYLIFE666’ from the newest album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. The crowd went wild as things took off; veterans Laura Jane Grace, and James Bowman were up with new band members Inge Johansson and Atom Willard driving a, so far, fairly docile audience into a frenzy. Things only got louder from there with ‘Cliché Guevara’ from Against Me! As The Eternal Cowboy and the self-titled track from New Wave ran right into ‘Walking Is Still Honest’, the first song off the original Against Me! EP. The mass of bodies smashing together grew wider and further back as each song went by and with such great choices to start the set off with, it wasn’t surprising when people started rising up on top of the crowd to be passed around above the shifting horde.
Grace gave some appreciation for the support given by family, friends, and fans through which led into ‘Unconditional Love’ from the new album. Then it was time for cheering to erupt for the opening of ‘I Still Love You Julie’, from the Crime As Forgiven By Against Me! EP; the older songs were definitely getting the loud appreciation I think they deserve. ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ from the new album ended and a clap-along started for ‘Don’t Lose Touch’ from Searching For A Former Clarity only to be followed by another clap-along after they’d played ‘I Was A Teenage Anarchist’ from White Crosses. ‘Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists’ is one of my favourite songs but for some reason the crowd seemed to lose complete control of their sense of timing because the off-timing of the majority of the clapping made me want to use a leucotome to turn my brains to mush. There was also a whole verse that just turned instrumental for whatever reason but Grace brought it back with her gravelly, guttural screaming “it’s gonna be all right”. Two songs from Searching For A Former Clarity,‘Pretty Girls (The Mover)’ and the crowd-pleasing ‘Miami’ (which had such a good lead-up intro) sandwiched the title track of the new album, ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’.
As an aside, I always forget about Searching For A Former Clarity, so I want to take a moment to say that it’s an album that I feel doesn’t get much attention for having some really great songs on it (‘Miami’ and ‘Don’t Lose Touch’ being great examples).
On the album the song is done with Tegan Quin of Tegan and Sara but on this tour, Laura Stevenson sang with Grace on ‘Borne On The FM Waves Of The Heart’, (from New Wave) and her sweet voice definitely held up against the harshness of Grace’s powerful vocals. ‘Dead Friend’, ‘Thrash Unreal’, ‘Black Me Out’, and ‘The Ocean’ traded from Transgender Dysphoria Blues to New Wave and back and forth again before ‘Sink, Floria, Sink’ from Against Me! As The Eternal Cowboy slowly closed the set.
This was, of course, followed by screaming, whistling, and cheering until Willard came out to warm up the crowd on the drums with the beginning of ‘Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong’ from Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose which got the swarm on the floor worked up into a delirium as the heat and sweat ramped up from bodies being packed tightly together, yet still colliding with the outskirts as much as possible. ‘Drinking With The Jocks’ was the last song played from Transgender Dysphoria Blues and ‘We Laugh At Danger (And Break All the Rules)’ from Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose finished up the night. There was plenty of crowd surfing for the final song, with Grace heading down into the crowd and even leaping off stage onto the waiting mass for the instrumental ending that included their roadie/guitar tech/whatever picking up a guitar to cover Grace’s part in the song as she surfed above our heads. It was really and incredible set.
Honestly, I’m not a big fan of anything Against Me! has put out since Searching For A Former Clarity but I can definitely say that hearing the songs live and raw, they certainly sounded a hell of a lot better than the album versions. So if you’re worried about there not being enough of the old material, then worry not; you’ll get plenty of Against Me!’s back catalogue, and the energy and gritty sound of those songs rubs off on the newer material when coming from a live performance. The night was hot, sweaty, and filled with a lot of great music, it’s really a tour that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who likes any of these bands. If you love Against Me! and any of their albums, then the current incarnation of the band won’t disappoint when their dirty sound scrapes through your ears to your brain.
photos © Jamie Taylor