Last time I saw them in 2011, Against Me! were a loud, tight locomotive of energy and bluster with a young man named Tom Gabel on vocals. They were really good, but that was pretty much it. One year later, a giant disruption bomb was deployed when Tom Gabel became Laura Jane Grace. Worlds were turned upside down. What would this mean for the band? Where on earth would we go from here?
But disruption doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, and tonight is the proof. As she strolls on to the stage, waving fondly to an adoring crowd, a smiling Laura Jane is greeted like some warrior princess returning from a hard-fought campaign. She dons a black Fender telecaster and her band let rip. And they have never sounded better.
I’ve seen Against Me! play live a few times. They’re the kind of band that are physically incapable of phoning it in, but tonight they sound more invigorated and inspired than ever. Laura Jane Grace is a whirling banshee, her long lank hair thrashing back and forth as she throws herself about the stage, exorcising all manner of demons via her voice and her guitar. The rest of the band -precision and super tight – are having just as much fun onstage as she is, and the audience laps it up. Fists are thrust in the air and drunk punks are sitting on top of the bar, hollering along to every word of every song. You get the sense that this is not just a gig, it is a celebration. “Right on! It’s good to be alive, right?” Grace says, just to drive the point home.
The band’s new album is its best in years, and we get the finest cuts from it tonight, along with a broad smattering of songs from across AM’s formidable career. The energy surges back and forth but there’s no real break in momentum to speak of. Grace and her cohorts are at the very top of their game. There’s more banter onstage than there used to be, but that’s fine. Grace no longer feels like hiding, and why should she?
This evening is proof of life, and it feels like the best is yet to come. By claiming ownership of who she is, who she really was all along, Laura Jane Grace has made her art even more incredible. No easy task. The celebrations end, the lights come up and we must all go home, but we’ve witnessed an inspirational spectacle.
More soon please.
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