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Against Me! at First Avenue, 6/21/11

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Against Me!, Screaming Females, and Lemuria

June 21, 2011

First Avenue, Minneapolis

The great thing about being an Against Me! fan is that one never has to wait around long to see them live. The Florida punk quartet tours relentlessly, and when they stopped by First Avenue on Tuesday night, they weren't even touring behind a new record. Besides a new 7" single (but what punk band, big or small, doesn't always have a new 7" coming out soon?) released earlier this month on their own newly-formed label (Total Treble Music), the band was simply touring for touring's sake. And by all appearances, they were having a great time doing so, too, as they raced through a breakneck-paced 28-song set.

For this summer tour, the amiable Floridians brought two much younger trios on the road with them, both fronted by women: New Brunswick, New Jersey howlers Screaming Females and the Buffalo, New York pop crew Lemuria. Both bands have clear roots in punk, but the two groups dealt with the vaguely-defined genre's traditions in different ways. During their opening set, Lemuria utilized faster tempos and relatively short songs, but singer Sheena Ozzella's delivery and lyrics had more in common with current indie pop bands like Illinois' Headlights. Perhaps this is why they made a point of naming their website lemuriapop.com.

On the other hand, Screaming Females strayed much farther from the pop path during their powerful, fuzzy set. Fronted by the tiny Marissa Paternoster on lead guitar and vocals, the trio blurred the lines of classic punk and the riff-heavy style of much late-'60s/early-'70s rock. Paternoster is a commanding presence on stage, and she wields the guitar with a force rarely seen in lead guitarists, especially ones who also sing lead. The band isn't afraid of solos either: Paternoster took squalling, wailing solos on nearly every song, as her bandmates locked into tight grooves and responded musically to her playing.

Screaming Females

Screaming Females

"I Don't Mind It," a punkier cut from 2010's Castle Talk, showcased Paternoster's unique voice in particular. She often in sings in a register lower than expected for female vocalists, but she has the command to jump to more mid-range pitches at a moment's notice. Though she didn't use the effect all the time, Paternoster can also scream. However, her howl isn't a Hot Topic nu-emo band scream: it's almost as if she can't wait to finish her line of lyrics, and instead lets out a wail to finish her lines sooner. Their set got heads nodding early, and no doubt convinced many to take a closer listen to Castle Talk.

After an unnecessarily long wait (their equipment was already set up), Against Me! took the stage to a packed dancefloor with a young crowd ready to yell their songs right back at them. In true basement punk show fashion, the band cruised through their set leaving little to no time in between songs. You have to appreciate a band that wants to give fans everything they can for the ticket price, but some banter would have been nice, too.

Now a quartet (Franz Nicolay of Hold Steady fame toured with them for a while last year), Against Me! launched straight into the one-two punch of fan favorites "Cliché Guevara" and "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong." Both tunes come from what some fans view as the "classic" Against Me! era, in the early 2000s before they were signed to the major label Sire Records. Though the band has mostly left behind this shambolic, almost folk-influenced feel from their early days in favor of a charging, straight-ahead rock sound, their inclusion of so many older songs throughout the night proves they still mean something to the band. Over their long career, fans have accused the band of "selling out" at nearly every point: when they started using a real drumset, when they signed to Warped Tour punk label Fat Wreck Chords, when longtime drummer Warren Oakes left, and finally when they signed to Sire Records. However, their set made it clear that none of these accusations matter to lead singer Tom Gabel and company, and that they still love playing together.

Their set showcased the variety of their songs, from the blistering "Rice and Bread" to the slower, sparser "Violence" from 2005's Searching for a Former Clarity. Gabel's voice has always been at the heart of Against Me! songs, and "Violence" emphasized his strength as a vocalist, and the band's strength at equally powerful backing vocals. Even on the more-polished (and sometimes weaker) tracks from 2007's New Wave and last year's White Crosses, the power of Gabel's voice and the band's sheer intensity made tunes like "I Was A Teenage Anarchist" reach heights that they do not on record.

Despite the anger clearly behind some of their songs (the pro-choice "White Crosses," for example), Gabel couldn't stop smiling the entire night. It's a testament to the band's strength that they still find such joy in playing together, even though they've been at it for 10 years as a band, and 14 as Gabel's solo/duo project.

The younger audience had a great time as well, pogoing, crowd-surfing, and yelling along to every word. Even with their age, the band still appeals to a decidedly younger crowd. When Gabel sang, "Do you remember/when you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire?" in "I Was A Teenage Anarchist," the nostalgia in the line was lost on the hardcore fans in front, who still wanted to set the world on fire. But there's nothing wrong with that either.

Against Me!'s sound may have evolved from their shaggy, lo-fi origins, but the same motivation is still there. Gabel's lyrics have always had their highs and their lows, but the quartet ended the night on a poignant note as the crowd yelled the final words to 2002's "We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)" right back at them:

"This band will play on/ Because all we can do is what we've always done."

You get the feeling that they're serious about that, too.

Personal Bias: Longtime casual fan, but now planning to revisit some of the earlier albums that soundtracked my middle school years.

The Crowd: Very sweaty, very all ages, with the occasional parent. The bar was crowded though.

Overheard in the crowd: The lyrics to almost every song, except the Clash cover, "Janie Jones."

Random notebook dump: Does Against Me! have a band uniform? Even new drummer Jay Weinberg (son of Max Weinberg, of the E Street Band and Late Night with Conan O'Brien) sported the all-black sleeveless tee, black jeans, and black shoes look.

  • Also, Weinberg knew every word to every song. Impressive for a new drummer

  • Screaming Females' drummer rocked this great giant wooden bead necklace

    Against Me!

    Against Me!

    Setlist

    Cliché Guevara

    Pints of Guinness Make You Strong

    From Her Lips to God's Ears (The Energizer)

    White People For Peace

    I Was A Teenage Anarchist

    Don't Lose Touch

    Violence

    Miami

    Because of the Shame

    Walking Is Still Honest

    New Wave

    White Crosses

    Russian Spies

    Tonight We're Gonna Give It 35%

    Americans Abroad

    Rice and Bread

    Reinventing Axl Rose

    Rapid Decompression

    You Look Like I Need A Drink

    Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists

    T.S.R. (This Shit Rules)

    Slurring the Rhythms

    Sink Florida Sink

    Thrash Unreal

    Encore:

    ??

    Baby, I'm An Anarchist

    Janie Jones (The Clash)

    We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)