Against Me! at Fitzgerald's, 3/16/2014

Photos by David Ensminger
Against Me!
March 16, 2014

Formula is often the death knell of bands that stick too close to a template that wears thin as a soggy cracker after a decade. Luckily, Against Me!, who helped ignite the world's interest in Gainesville, Fla., has run the gamut from loose-knit, post-Fugazi hoarse punk singalongs to tight-as-hell musical populism contextualized by abundant tattoos, smart-ass stabs at left-wing clichés and conformity, evocative and explorative narratives, as well as hook-infested, fiery, TNT-powered pop.

Whereas mainstream punk bands that sign to major labels often end up over-cooked, bland, banal, faceless and embalmed, Against Me! stuck to their guns and abandoned ship after hitting No. 34 on the Billboard charts and releasing two well-honed records that did seem a bit comfy with slick studio production, thanks to uber-alternative rocker/producer Butch Vig. Once free, they jump-started their own studio, Elkton, and DIY label, Total Treble Music, while witnessing the transformation of former sandpaper-voiced singer Tom Gabel into the alluring and potent Laura Jane Grace.

The band's emotive new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, now featuring a rhythm section retrofitted by former members of Rocket from the Crypt (Herculean drummer Atom Willard) and The (International) Noise Conspiracy (fleet-footed bassist Inge Johansson), is not only a conceptual wakeup call to issues of gender fluidity in the modern era, it also unleashes new and revitalized music territories germane to the bold
subject matter of a singer attempting to un-hitch, and live untrammeled by a confusing past as she reshapes an identity in the mottled glare of the spotlight.

Sunday night's set list decisively conjured up many of the album's momentous cuts: the marshaled Johnny Cash-gone-punk skitter rhythm of the title track; big, fuzzed-out anthemic melodies ("True Trans Soul Rebel," not too far removed from their earlier tune "Americans Abroad"); slow howls underscoring the need to cut loose the pain and creeps of a former life ("Black Me Out"); soaring, early Cheap Trick-style rock-and-roll walls of sound ("Unconditional Love"), which nearly propelled the audience to bounce the floor
to pieces; acerbic back-to-basic punk evocations of outsiderness ("Drinking With the Jocks"); cryptic and thrusting prog-metal ("Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ"); and a Late Show With David Letterman-tested tune exploring the desire to live bravely with bite, honesty, openness, candidness and purpose ("Fuckmylife666").

Plus, Against Me! unleashed a barrage of prehistoric tunes too, like their early, Crime EP-culled "I Still Love You Julie"; mid-2000s rowdy sea chanty/Southern blues-bellowing "Miami"; and audience-stirring, combustible versions of "Don't Lose Touch" and "Cliché Guevara." The band deftly balanced these morsels with the unexpectedly loose-limbed, pounding and slow-gyrating ballad "The Ocean" as well as the pulse-spiking life-gone-wrong anthem "Thrash Unreal."

Review continues on the next page.

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2706 White Oak, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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 I applaud Laura Jane Grace's decision to live her life the way she wants to live it and to be true to herself. However, to not discuss the impact this has had on her art and performance is to ignore the elephant in the room and feels like something of a journalistic betrayal. The author has obviously seen the band a few times. What is the same? What is different? There has never been a transformation like this in a band at this level in rock and roll history. How can you ignore that in the name of political correctness? I am not talking any sort of moral discussion at all. I am talking about the singer in a very popular band undergoing a gender transformation. How does this impact not only the theme of the music (which gets discussed in the lyrics and is in fact discussed here) but the actual performance. Surely there are differences, yet it seems there is a reluctance to discuss them as if that somehow isn't Laura Jane. It seems to me not discussing them is not fair to her or us. Maybe there have been no changes. Then that is surely a valid point to make too. MAKE IT! Again, this is not a morality issue at all. I applaud her and it is fascinating to me--to act like nothing has really changed is to me the real crime here. 

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