Against Me! @ The Hi-Fi Bar, Melbourne (22/01/2013)
Against Me! haven’t released a new record since they last toured Australia in 2011, but it’s by far their most publicised Aus tour to date. After all, this is the band’s first visit to Melbourne since vocalist Laura Jane Grace – formerly Tom Gabel – came out as transgender.
Her arrival on stage is greeted with a sustained applause, only broken by the crowd’s embrace of set opener ‘Pints of Guinness Make You Strong’. From the song’s marching-drum opening refrain, a few things become evident: Against Me!’s live sound is bolstered substantially by new drummer Atom Willard (formerly of the Offspring and Rocket from the Crypt), and their fans are here to get rowdy. The excitement in the room is palpable. As the heat intensifies a few people start taking off their shirts.
During ‘Walking is Still Honest’ Grace hangs over the front of the stage screaming the lyrics. She is unexpectedly shy between songs, largely avoiding eye contact with the audience – the total emotional antithesis of so many of the band’s aggressive anthems that spill through the course of the show: ‘Americans Abroad,’ ‘White People For Peace’ and ‘Miami’.
“Grace revels in the room’s unity and support.”
‘The Ocean’ is met with great anticipation, somewhat unsurprisingly. Pockets of people dance to the thumping pulse provided by Willard’s drums and Andrew Seward’s bass. During the second verse Grace’s guitar dangles around her waist. She takes command of the microphone with both hands – her legs spread in a powerful stance – leaning back she sings: “If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman…” The audience erupt with cheers and applause that dwarf anything preceded the moment. Grace revels in the room’s unity and support.
Against Me! have always struggled between pop and punk, a sound they perfected with 2007s New Wave, but few would deny that it’s follow-up, White Crosses, was a step too far into crisp, power-pop territory. In light of recent events it seems now, that White Crosses was written in creative limbo. Grace’s new material focuses on identity, gender and her transgender transformation. With it has come creative liberation, a raw sensibility that allows her to explore subjects honestly, without fear of the public reaction.
Essentially, and often in the most literal sense, Grace is now able to say what she couldn’t before.While references to her battle with gender identity can now retrospectively be identified scattered throughout the Against Me! back-catalogue, none are as forthright as new song ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues.’ In the chorus Grace sings: “You want them to see you like they see every other girl, they just see a faggot, hold their breath not to catch the sick.”
During ‘Sink, Florida, Sink’ the room is once more united, this time by a chorus and a howling ‘whoa’. Then, with little warning the set ends. Against Me! leave the stage and, together, we leave the Hi-Fi for some much needed fresh air.
Pints of Guinness Make You Strong
True Trans Soul Rebel
Don’t Lose Touch
Walking Is Still Honest
White People For Peace
I Was a Teenage Anarchist
Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists
Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ
Up the Cuts
Pretty Girls (The Mover)
Black Me Out
Drinking With The Jocks
Because of the Shame
Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Piss and Vinegar
Sink, Florida, Sink