On Saturday, June 4, after I do a reading a 3 pm at RiverReads Books in Binghamton, NY, I’m heading to Allentown with my girlfriend to see Against Me! for probably my 8th or 9th time over the last decade or so. Over the years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Against Me! The first time I saw them, back in the early 2000s, was, without a doubt, one of the best punk rock shows I’ve ever been to. It was the beginning of the Bush Administration years and my college career, and the songs on Against Me’s debut full-length , Reinventing Axl Rose, were so poignant for that time period. The tracks sounded even better live in the basement of the First Unitarian Church in Philly. I’ll never forget how when the band blasted into “We Laugh At Danger and Break All the Rules,” they let a slew of fans on stage to sing along with sweat-soaked front man, Tom Gabel. I also heard the Lawrence Arms for the first time that night, a band that would become one of my all time favorites. The Chicago trio opened the show.
Over the next few years, I saw Against Me! a number of times in Philly and New Jersey. Each time, they played a bigger and bigger venue, eventually selling out Philly’s Electric Factory. I enjoyed their string of releases on No Idea Records and Fat Wreck Chords, but I was always torn about their major label debut, New Wave. The production on that album is SO massive and polished, due to the fact the band worked with Butch Vig, the man responsible for Nirvana’s Nevermind album. The band would spend countless interviews defending its decision to sign to a major label, especially after penning songs like “Baby, I’m an Anarchist” and “Reinventing Axl Rose,” a song that praised DIY culture and basement shows. During that time, I was writing music articles for Wonka Vision Magazine, and I got to interview the band in 2007 with another Wonka Vision reporter. Tom Gabel and other band members weren’t exactly eager to defend the deal with Warner/Sire and the drastic change of sound on New Wave. Of course, this is also a band whose fans scrawled Against DIY on their van and slashed their tires at various shows when the band gained popularity.
Because of that interview, I got to see the band play the Electric Factory with hardcore act Mastadon and indie rock darlings Cursive. To this day,I still don’t think Against Me! fit well on that bill. But with New Wave, the band was trying to forge a new path musically and commercially, no matter the complaints from DIY/punk purists or the comparisons to Jawbreaker- a band that had a huge underground following, but then alienated that following after releasing Dear You, a major label debut album that marked a distinct change in sound.
I didn’t see Against Me! many times after that show, and it wasn’t until a few months ago I saw them again, also at the Electric Factory, when they toured with the Dropkick Murphys, a band they’re more apt to share a stage with than Mastadon. I was surprised how many tracks from their earlier albums and EPs they played. I did get into the pit and sang along when they plowed through several old favorites, including “Cliche Guevara,” “Walking Is Still Honest,” “Sink, Florida, Sink!” and “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong.” I forgot how much I missed Tom Gabel’s guttural howls and the band’s smart political/social lyrics. That show even made me go back to listen to the band’s two major label full-lengths-New Wave, and the more recent White Crosses. I will admit each album does have its standouts, if one is willing to accept Against Me! will probably never go back to the basement shows.
I’m eager to see what the band will offer on June 4. Now that they’re no longer on Warner/Sire, their set lists seem to be more reflective of their career as a whole. Whatever they chose to play, I’m sure I’ll be in the pit, hands curled into fists, singing along to some old and newer favorites. Against Me! penned some of the best protest songs of the Bush years, and without a doubt, Reinventing Axl Rose and Against Me’s sound as a whole makes them one of the most relevant and influential bands in punk rock in the last 10 years.