When I was in eighth grade, fully embracing my Metallica phase, I did not give a crap about punk. To me, punk bands were just bands that didn’t know how to shred. That all changed when my best friend Austin showed me Against Me! (on the bus, during a field trip). We were on tour; the orchestra was playing Disney songs to all of the elementary schools in town.
I told Austin I didn’t want to listen to them because punk sucks, but he persisted. He even told me that Rolling Stone named them “Best Punk Band” of the year. If Rolling Stone wrote it, it has to be true, right?
The first song he played was “Cliché Guevara,” track two off of their second album, As The Eternal Cowboy. I fell in love immediately. The energy of Warren Oakes’ pounding floor tom right off the bat, the in-between yelling and singing of Laura Jane Grace and the gang vocals in the chorus belting, “A new way on,” hit me all at once. It was a new way on for damn sure, a new way for me to look at music and appreciate the emotion in songs, over the virtuosity.
“Cliché Guevara” was the third song Against Me! played at the Old National Centre this past Wednesday. This was my fifth time seeing them, the second since Laura came out publicly as a transgender woman. There’s a reason I, along with many other fans, keep coming back. It’s the same reason the band is about to release their second live album: Against Me! is one of the best live bands in the game.
They played 22 songs in the span of their 90-minute set. When one song ended, it would transition effortlessly into the next song with little delay. It’s athletic, borderline relentless. Sometimes there were short breaks between songs, a memorable one being when the crowd started chanting Laura’s name, to which she responded, “It sounds like you’re all saying moron.”
Against Me! grew in leaps and bounds. Starting as Grace’s solo acoustic act playing in sweaty Gainesville basements, each release sounds different and stands alone from the one before. Reinventing Axl Rose is short and energetic; As The Eternal Cowboy is angry and passionate; Searching For a Former Clarity shows signs of maturing and confidence; New Wave broke them into the mainstream; White Crosses was the soundtrack to the uneasy years; and Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the newfound confidence and gritty revival.
Through the discography, many musicians have come and gone from Against Me!, but Laura and guitarist James Bowman have remained constant. As corny as it may sound, Against Me! has been that rock for me and my music taste. Though I’ve found other “favorite” bands and have even gone months without listening to them, they’re always the first band I mention when somebody asks, “So…what kind of music do you like?”
If you have a band that means the world to you, it always feels good to refresh yourself on how they came into your life. I see Austin only a handful of times a year since moving from my hometown of Chesterton, IN. Every time I see him, however, I’m reminded of that day in middle school. It shaped who I am, it shaped the music I listen to and it’s a big reason why I'm writing this right now.