Against Me! – Brooklyn Steel – October 14, 2017
For some, Against Me! are the only band that matters, while in other circles the group hasn’t mattered in more than a decade. In their early days, the Florida four-piece fused folk and punk in a way that put their sound somewhere in between Billy Bragg and Crass. Their 2002 debut, Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose, was filled with scrappy sing-along tunes that promoted far-left politics and an infectious DIY charm that quickly won over the punk scene and influenced countless other acts. Then things began to change: Their 2007 album, New Wave, was a divisive sea change for the band as they jumped from indie label Fat Wreck Chords to the major label Sire Records. The LP paired them with famous producer Butch Vig, who helped them expand upon their sound and buff out the amateurish edge that seemed exciting and dangerous to many of their longtime loyal followers. But for those fans who turned their backs around that period, they have really missed out as Against Me! have come into their own in so many ways.
During that period, singer Laura Jane Grace (previously known as Tom Gabel) had begin to subtly hint in her lyrics that she was suffering from gender dysmorphia—and in the following years, she began to fully transition. This process fueled Grace to write the band’s masterpiece, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, so nakedly honest about her experiences while still rocking with more fury and passion than the band had displayed since their early days. During this time, the original rhythm section left and after some temporary substitutions, drummer Atom Willard and bassist Inge Johansson became permanent members. With these additions, Against Me! have become one the best live bands going. And after touring behind their newest album, Shape Shift with Me, for seven weeks, they brought their well-oiled machine to Brooklyn Steel on Saturday for a life-affirming night of rock and roll.
The room boiled over with a collective joy impossible not to notice as Against Me! blasted into Blues’ “True Trans Soul Rebel.” The mania in the crowd barely let up as the sea of fans bounced along in unison with crowd-surfers perpetually rolling overhead throughout the set. The band treated fans to a well-balanced mix of material from throughout their career, even busting out some deep cuts from the early days, like an especially heavy rendition of Axl Rose’s “Jordan’s First Choice.” One of the most surprising moments of the main set came as the quartet played a faithful rendition of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” that did the fallen Florida icon proud. Their encore also started with a cover as Grace played a solo rendition of the Mountain Goats classic “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.” The song’s lines “When you punish a person for living his dream/ Don’t expect him to thank or forgive you” could act as a rallying cry for the resistance and Grace sang it with an intense purpose that sent chills down the spine. As the show came to an end, the band went out with a one-two punch of “Sink, Florida, Sink” and “We Laugh at Danger and Break All the Rules” that had fans singing the words long after the house lights had come on. —Pat King | @MrPatKing