It seemed every other pierced punker standing in line outside First Ave in the Tuesday afternoon sunshine was decked in an Against Me! or Dead Kennedys t-shirt, though neither band was on the bill.
The sun had finally set behind the upstairs bar-length window as politi-punk rockers Anti-Flag took the Main Room stage. When lithe frontman Justin Sane—looking like a bulimic Joe Strummer—launched into the crunchy opener "Spit in the Face," the all-ages crowd boiled over into a swirling circle mosh, more than a few fluorescent 18-inch Mohawks waving urgently to-and-fro like sails of Dimetrodons engaged in a feeding frenzy.
In town to promote their recently released album, The Bright Lights of America, the Pittsburgh quartet laid thick the machinegun powerchord riffage, the high-pitched Whoa-ohh!s and, of course, the heavy-handed jeremiads that have made the band a staple among the vegan/leftist/anarchist set.
"My friends, January 20 is not that far away," shouted bassist/vocalist Chris #2 to the charged capacity crowd. "That's the last day we'll have to endure Bush! In 279 days we will celebrate the removal of that motherfucker from our lives. But on January 20, the struggle begins! None of the three candidates are progressive enough for us and we need to push to bring back every soldier from Iraq!"
Drummer Pat Thetic couldn't make it ("He had some business to attend to, namely fucking his girlfriend," explained Sane between songs.) His replacement didn't miss—or unnecessarily add—a beat.
The 15-song set, which they chugged through in less than an hour, was heavy on newer stuff, mostly from the aforesaid release and 2006's For Blood and Empire, both of which were released under—gasp!—mega-label RCA Records. But they threw some A-F Records-era favorites in for good measure, most notably the menacing anti-Big Media mantra "Underground Network" and the folksy fuck-Bush anthem "Turncoat." For the encore, the band reemerged to kick out a methodically urgent "Die for the Government," whose chorus the audience ferociously belted out with a fiendish mix of anger and pride.
Granted, the group's knee jerk lefty screeds and hyper-P.C. ethos are best taken in small doses. And, yeah, the paradoxical mix of individualism and collectivism they espouse (let's hear it for nonconformist unity!) is hard to logically reconcile. But so what? Certainly there are more malevolent forces out there vying for 16-year-olds' political consciousnesses. Like, for instance, those Anti-Flag rail against. What is it when a mob of teenagers flails euphorically in righteous fury, all idealism and no cynicism?
As Anti-Flag themselves sing on occasion: "Thats youth. That's all."