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