Live: Against Me! Buck The Norms, Duet With Joan Jett At Terminal 5


Against Me! w/The Cult, The Icarus Line
Terminal 5
Friday, June 8

Better than: Being stuck in pre-tunnel traffic on a Megabus that was supposed to have left Philly at 3:30? (R.I.P. Chinatown buses.) Sorry, sorry. Better than… um, any other rawk band working right now?

The critical indifference toward and commercial failure of Against Me!’s 2010 album White Crosses was straight-up cognitive dissonance to say the least, happening as it did while fellow punks-turned-Springsteenians the Gaslight Anthem and the Hold Steady ate up plaudits and increasingly huge audiences all around. If it took lead singer Tommy Gabel’s brave and inspiring decision to become a woman, Laura Jane Grace, for this band to receive the Green Day-level notice they deserve, then so be it.

After walking out to some Rocky-theme fanfare, Against Me! immediately bashed out two already-recognizable new ones off their upcoming Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which should answer any questions about Grace’s filter between thoughts and songwriting. Not that it’s been questioned before—Against Me! has written plainspoken rants against Panic at the Disco (“I don’t think you’re bad people/ I just think that your aesthetic is horrible”) and Yahoo! (for not allowing relatives access to their deceased family member’s email account). The full-mascara’d Grace owned the stage on Friday, tearing into new ones, old ones and sellout ones with equal briskness and enthusiasm while newish drummer Jay Weinberg (yes, Max’s son!) drummer-mouthed the loudest hooks behind him (“I Was a Teenage Anarchist”—yum, right there with you Jay).

Intros were brief and songs were faster, like a bracing take on “New Wave” and a near hoedown-speed “Don’t Lose Touch”; these Floridians are music-first no matter what hoopla might be surrounding them. The riffs and hooks were more plainspoken than anything they could’ve bantered anyway. Which doesn’t mean that Against Me! (check the name!) haven’t taken on a whole new heft, identity and meaning for the people now interested in following the travails of the First Transgender Rock Star. And Grace is still full of surprises, like bringing out Joan Jett halfway through to imbue the Replacements’ immortal “Androgynous” with a new resonance and sense of inclusiveness.

“One, I’m a transsexual. Two, we fucking love the Replacements,” she beamed.

Against Me! and Joan Jett cover The Replacements’ “Androgynous”

It was followed by the madly applauded “The Ocean,” an atypically epic (almost five minutes!) mountain climb at the end of 2007’s phenomenal New Wave that featured this lyrical admission: “if I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman/ My mother once told me she would have named me Laura.” Without a jarring second, things returned to “normal,” with a rouser called “Pints of Guinness Make Us Stronger” and a grinding set by the Cult, who to these unfamiliar ears sounded like the world’s most competent hard rock band ever. It was a night of comfort-rock, where the ideal of “comfort” no longer rested on gender. It was masculine, it was feminine, it was a loud, raucous room full of who-gives-a-fuck. One crowd member flashed a homemade “We <3 Laura” banner; another pit jumper was still singing along in security’s arms.

Critical bias: Pazzed those last two Butch Vig-produced major label albums, a masterfully melodic about-face from their more wordy, labored beginnings. I think it was SOTC’s Christopher Weingarten who said: “Terrible punk band, excellent pop band.”

Overheard: “It’s not like a bullshit new album, it’s a really good new album.”—The Cult’s Ian Astbury real-talking before launching into 2012’s “Lucifer.”

Random notebook dump: If that was Astbury asking us to scoot from his reserved table in the VIP balcony, I feel bad for honestly not recognizing him without the shades, fur blazer and giant tambourine.

Set list:
True Trans Soul Rebel
Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Don’t Lose Touch
Turn Those Clapping Hands into Angry Balled Fists
I Was a Teenage Anarchist
White Crosses
Black Me Out
New Wave
Androgynous (feat. Joan Jett)
The Ocean
Pints of Guinness Make Us Stronger
Sink, Florida, Sink!