Friday, 21 November 2014

Gig Review: Against Me! at the Electric Ballroom, Camden 19/11/14

Against Me are without a doubt the most talked about punk band of the past ten years. Whether it’s because of fans accusing them of selling out when they signed to a major label, numerous line up changes or when lead singer Tom Gabel came out as a transgender person and became Laura Jane Grace. None of that ever mattered to me, as long as they continue to make great music I don’t care what else they do. I had only ever had the pleasure of seeing Against Me live once before, supporting Frank Turner at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2012. It seemed like an eternity since then and when they announced a UK tour this year I snapped up a ticket as soon as they were put on sale. Here is what I thought of their sold out show at the Electric Ballroom in Camden.

The opening act for Against Me was from a lady from Vancouver, Canada named Billy Pettinger who goes by the stage name of Billy The Kid. The only thing I knew about Billy The Kid before this gig was that Frank Turner (from the Olympics) produced her new album (I didn’t even know Billy was a her) so I expected some good folk music. I don’t know how many people at the Electric Ballroom were aware of her music but she got a great response as she made her way on stage. From the very start I could see how much she loved being on stage playing her songs and her joy was infectious. I love the way punk and folk music go hand in hand, I guess it’s due to then anti-establishment nature of the music and doing things on your own terms. Billy The Kids music definitely had a feel of doing things her own way which I really enjoyed. An obvious highlight of her set was when Mr Frank Turner himself joined Billy on stage for a song; obviously this received a big cheer. What I really loved about this performance was that it didn’t feel like there was a star on stage, it was just a mate of Billy’s who joined her on stage for a song. I guess that’s another great connection between punk and folk, there isn’t a them as us feeling between the performers and the crowd, it’s a we’re all in this together feeling. Billy The Kids set was hugely enjoyable, a great set of songs and excellent charisma on the stage. I’ll definitely be checking her out more and would recommend her to anyone who likes well written, honest music.

Now on to Against Me. As a rule I try my best not to swear in this blog unless I’m quoting lyrics. Unfortunately I’m not that good of a wordsmith to explain just how good Against Me were. They were FUCKING (sorry Mum) amazing. Notice how I used capitals to really emphasise just how great they were. From the opening chords of FUCKMYLIFE666 to the closing of We Laugh At Danger (And Laugh At All The Rules) it was a great big punk rock party. By the third song Cliché Guevara I could feel my voice starting to go I was singing so loudly. It felt to me like one big punk rock celebration, everyone was having the greatest time and there were smiles all around. I stood amazed at how this band that started with a man playing acoustic guitar in libraries in Gainesville Florida had how become this punk rock juggernaut, loved the world over. It’s certainly well deserved, playing over twenty songs without a dud mixed it at all and they didn’t even play Reinventing Axl Rose which for me is the greatest song ever written. I was surprised by crowd reactions to some of the songs; songs that I expected to get massive reactions such as the hugely singable Don’t Lose Touch got fairly muted reactions compared to some of the newer material. Black Me Out, which for me was one of the weaker tracks (if there is such thing as a weak Against Me song) on the newest album Transgender Dysphoria Blues got a massive reaction from the crowd, though to be fair I have a new found love for that song after hearing it live. During the set Laura brought out Billy The Kid to duet on the song Borne On The FM Airwaves. This was one of thebest duets I had ever witnessed. Billy was clearly completely made up to be there and was all over the place during the song, at one point scaling some scaffolding at the side of the stage and at another point diving into the crowd, wonderfully energetic performance. One of the biggest highlights for me actually came in the brief intermission before the encore when the crowd had a massive singalong of Sink Florida Sink before the band came back on. That moment will stay with me for a long long time. A part of me kind of wish the band didn’t play that when they came back on and just joined us in an acapella version. As with the best punk rock parties they don’t wind down and come to a gradual halt, they stop dead and leave a crowd breathless, covered in sweat and with the big grins on their faces. This is definitely how I felt at the end of the show. It really was fucking amazing; there was a strong feeling that I had just witnessed something incredibly special.

As I made my way back home I reflected on what had been one of the best nights of my life and what a huge sense of pride I had. Specifically the amount of pride I had in being a member of the punk rock scene in the UK. I absolutely love just how accepting it is a community. I think in any other scene if a big star came out as a transgender person they would lose a lot of fans. For example imagine if Eminem came out and said that he always felt inside that he was a woman and would be making the transformation do you think that would be accepted? No chance on earth! I can’t imagine he would even be accepted as a homosexual. In our punk scene when Laura bravely decided to come out to me it didn’t there was even a need to accept it. From my experiences it was just a case of “okay cool, you’re Laura now, are you still going to be in this amazing band that is so important to so many people and more importantly are you still going to be an awesome person? Yes – brilliant!” That’s exactly how it should be and that why I am so proud of my punk rock brothers and sisters. The world could learn a thing of two from this world that I love so much.

Find out more about Billy The Kid here:

Find our more about Against Me! here:

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