If there’s one place that everyone can feel accepted for who they are it’s among the sweaty bodies in the mosh pit of an Against Me! show. The atmosphere is one of overwhelming group solidarity; if somebody falls, several people rush to help them up; if somebody wants to crowd surf, all they have to do is ask; and when Grace sings about heartbreak or frustration, nearly everybody knows the words.
Last Tuesday Against Me! made their return to Bogarts, joined by LA garage pop band Bleached and Canadian punk band The Dirty Nil. Against Me! was formed in 1997 by frontwoman and guitarist Laura Jane Grace. Grace was accompanied by long time member and lead guitarist James Bowman, bassist Inge Johansson (formerly of The Noise Conspiracy), and drummer Atom Willard.
The song themes switch between gender issues and politics, with songs like “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” sitting comfortably next to “Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious.” Grace’s deeply honest and intelligent songwriting is equally capable of handling both, and the band never pulls any punches. Grace briefly spoke about her experience with gender dysphoria before leading into a stripped down version of, “Bamboo Bones.” Arms raised high, Grace sang “What God doesn’t give to you, you have to go and get for yourself…”
Their performance exuded high energy, with Johansson accenting chord changes with high kicks, Willard never letting the tempo drag, and Grace never standing still for a moment. Grace and Bowman alternated singing lead and harmonies, with Johansson attacking the punchier words and accenting with vocalizations. Fills from both the drums and the bass ensured there was never a dull moment in the rhythm section, and Bowman’s guitar provided counter melodies and momentum to carry through choruses.
The performance came just a day after the passing of rock legend Tom Petty, a role model to Grace. Switching out for an acoustic guitar midway through the set, Grace, while strumming the chords to “Free Fallin’,” recounts buying a Rickenbacker guitar with the money from Against Me!’s first record deal “because that’s what Tom Petty played.” Bowman tears into the riff from “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and the band follows along at breakneck speed.
For their encore Grace took the stage alone for an acoustic cover of The Mountain Goats, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton”. Grace, joined by Willard, dedicated the next song “Two Coffins for Sleep,” (written for her daughter Evelyn) to the parents in the crowd. The full band returned and they finish off the encore, and when their set finally ended it was hard not to drive to Cleveland that night to wait for their next show.
After 20 years Against Me! has evolved over their many albums, with styles ranging from folk punk to a more refined rock sound. With their latest studio album, Shape Shift With Me, they mix the old and new, and prove they are a musical force whose mix of style and content is impossible to duplicate.