Against Me!, Cheap Girls, Fences
January 24, 2011
Better than: seeing some lo-fi band that thinks it's punk rock.
As on record, Against Me! is, at its barest, a visceral pop-punk outfit in a live setting -- perhaps as visceral as such an outfit can possibly be. Nearly a decade into its career at this point, the band has very clearly found its niche.
That niche? A combination of adored-across-the-board influences, from Springsteen to The Pogues, and a sound that bridges the gaps between modern-day punk stalwarts The Gaslight Anthem and The Dropkick Murphys, incorporating the best elements of the former's American punk rock sound with the latter's traditionally Irish-informed uplifting grit.
And it all hinges on magnetic frontman Tom Gabel's fiery brand of angsty, shout-along songwriting. He's an outspoken performer, a phenomenal narrator and, in another life, probably a political hero.
Neither he nor his band did much (if any) wrong in their performance last night as they thrashed about the stage, sweat flying out of each and every pore, and each lyric sung as if it might be their last -- and, well, even if they had, this crowd probably wouldn't have noticed. Standing atop a bill of newer, more unfamiliar names, Against Me! was the clear draw of this night, and they hardly disappointed.
Pulling material into their set from across their entire catalog, Gabel and his cohorts utilized every bit of the venue's almost-too-loud sound system to inspire chaotic revelry among its audience, which shouted, fist-pumped, crowd-surfed and stage-dove with glee for the entirety of the set. The high emotion level was merited -- songs such as "I Was A Teenage Anarchist," "Thrash Unreal" and "White People For Peace" in particularly resonated (they being the band's biggest hits and all), but with nary a break between songs, few of the band's songs didn't elicit uproarious response.
Most impressive? The fact that, aside from performing their songs with a certain amount of conviction themselves, the band did nothing to outwardly encourage the madness. Bassist Andrew Seward and guitarist James Bowman flanked Gabel, bouncing as they played and shouting their parts on cue, just as drummer Jay Weinberg wailed away on his kit, propelling the affair along.
But Gabel was the clear star among the bunch, smirking his way through his songs' chanted rants and visibly pleased with the energetic response his band's music inspired. And, about halfway through the set, when fans started climbing on stage to stage-dive -- a practice they'd maintain pretty much without stop for the remainder of the set -- Gabel not only gladly stepped from side to side to afford them some stage space, but even openly encouraged their dives, helping them time their dives just right and, at one point, excitedly screamed at one fan to "Jump, motherfucker, jump!"
The fan most likely would have anyway -- but on this night, the Trees crowd would have done pretty much any bidding Gabel might have asked.
The same, for at least a small portion of the crowd, could be said of main support Cheap Girls, who drew a surprisingly loyal fanbase right up to the front of the stage for their performance. Sounding -- and this is only meant as somewhat of a slight -- like a punk rock Gin Blossoms, Cheap Girls' endearing pop-punk had its fans shouting along with its songs like they were Weezer. Impressive, if not wholly merited stuff.
Kind of the opposite was true of the other touring act on this bill Fences, whose punk-indebted pop (a clear reversal of influence from the other bands on the bill) shined despite being somewhat out of place, stylistically. The Seattle-by-way-of-Boston act didn't have nearly the fanbase leg-ups that the following acts claimed, but, by the end of its set, found much of the room nodding along, pleased by the new band's offerings.
Personal Bias: Against Me!'s 2007 release, New Wave, is pretty close to a desert island disc for me, but I'd never seen the band in a live setting before. They didn't disappoint.
Random Note: Yes, Against Me!'s drummer, Jay Weinberg, is the son of E Street Band drummer (and former Conan band leader) Max Weinberg. Gotta figure the Boss must then approve of this band's counting of him amongst its most significant influences, huh.
By The Way: Seriously, folks, remember to bring earplugs when you see rock shows at Trees. I cannot emphasize this enough.