My sophomore year in college I met a girl named Erin. She had bleached blonde spiky hair, tattoos, and a lip ring. She had spent the previous year hitchhiking around the country and while I was attending outdoor arena concerts, she was at basement punk shows.
To paraphrase a favorite lyric, she was the closest I had met to an anarchist. I was a spineless liberal.
This past Wednesday at Port City Music Hall I finally saw Against Me!, a band Erin introduced to me all those years ago, play live. My reaction? It seems that like us, Against Me! have done some growing up. Once proudly anarchist, the group now focus less on radical politics, and more on reflection.
In 2007 the band conformed to popular taste just enough to produce a radio hit with New Wave’s third track, “Thrash Unreal.” That success broadened their listener base, which was apparent at Wednesday night’s show. Every stereotypical brand of punk attended, from gutter to rockabilly, but young professionals also made up a significant part of the larger venue’s crowd.
It was the arrival of one fan clad in a Tom Brady jersey and Mardi Gras beads, timed perfectly with the performance of the band’s newest single, that truly drove that point home. “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” from the upcoming June album release White Crosses, lyrically explains the transformation that early Against Me! fans often complain about. Frontman Tom Gabel sang, “Narrow visions of autonomy/You want me to surrender my identity/I was a teenage anarchist/The revolution was a lie.”
While the lyrics explain a lot, the sound of the song, and Gabel’s voice, were in such strong contrast to their earlier grainy sound, that much of the crowd stood quiet and contemplative during the performance. But when the band finished their encore with the 2002 hit “Baby, I’m an Anarchist,” the fans came alive again, many rushing the stage to scream along.
Against Me! may have lost their idealism, but at least their more mature and reflective state includes an appreciation for the politics that first fueled their popularity, and allows them to include early hits in their current live shows