Last night, I saw Against Me! live in Allentown at the Crockadile Rock Cafe. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the band over the years, but it has to be at least a half dozen times or so. Last night’s show was one of the best experiences I’ve had seeing them in the last five years or so, simply because their set list was reflective of their career as a whole and certainly did not ignore the songs from their first few albums that still remain some of my favorite punk rock albums of all time.
The beginning of the set, for instance, featured some old fan favorites. The band blasted off the set with “Cliche Guevara” from 2003’s The Eternal Cowboy. In fact, the first quarter of the set featured several of their faster, more anthemic songs, including “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong”and “From Her Lips to God’s Ears.” These early songs caused the floor to erupt into one big mosh/circle pit, with the young fans budging forward, banging against each other, and throwing their first in the air to sing along to old favorites. They continued to do that for just about the whole set.
The set was laced with tracks from the band’s major label albums, New Wave and White Crosses, but for the most part, the band stuck to the faster songs on those albums, except for the track “The Ocean.” I noticed a few things about the tracks from the band’s major label era. First, most of the songs drew a solid response from most of the audience, so maybe Against Me!’s fans are now more accepting of those albums. Second, those songs sound SO much better in a live setting, with Butch Vig’s slick production removed. Front man Tom Gabel’s voice is a lot louder and more guttural when he performs those songs live, and the rest of the band speeds the tempo up.
Overall,though, the set was pretty heavy with old songs. The band played nearly all of The Eternal Cowboy last night, as well as several tracks from 2001’s Reinventing Axl Rose, including the title track, “Walking Is Still Honest,” “Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious,” and “We Laugh at Danger and Break All of the Rules,”which concluded the show. Those songs still draw an immediate, passionate response from the audience and still sound as great 10 years after they were recorded.
The band also played a slew of songs from Searching for a Former Clarity, the last indie album before the major label deal. I suspect this album was also well-represented because the band just released Total Clarity, the demos and b-sides from that album.
No one knows what musical direction Against Me! will take now, but I am excited the band is no longer on Sire/Warner and they have started their own label for all future releases, and last night’s set list featured the raw power, energy, and big hooks Against Me! is known for. I suspect it was even powerful enough to win back any old fans that may have defected when the band signed to a major.