Against Me! – Concert Review
01/22/2014 Freebird Live, Jacksonville Beach, FL
I have had the opportunity to see Against Me! a few times over the years. Never have I seen them in such an intimate setting or on such a cold night. I took A1A from St. Augustine to Jacksonville Beach and got delayed by what I first thought was a police checkpoint, but would later learn was actually a crime scene.
The county was doing controlled burns and afterwards found human remains among the now black, burned seaside. Foul-play in such an affluent community? It’s hard to believe, which only reinforces my assertion that everyone has their own crap to deal with; some are just better at hiding it. I honestly don’t think that the internet needs another article about the strange, crazy stuff that happens in Florida. Suffice it to say that the St. John’s County Sherriff’s department is “hot” on the case. Too soon?
If you’ve never been to Freebird Live at Jacksonville Beach, it’s nestled right across the street from the pavilion and a couple of blocks down from everyone’s favorite Irish pub, Lynch’s. It has always been a favorite venue of mine for the simple fact that during the summer you can spend a couple hours at the beach prior to the show, and when you hear the sound-checks begin, that’s your cue to change clothes and get in line. That must be a happy memory from weekends long ago, because this was a Wednesday and it was frigid. I got there as soon as I could after work, but I’m going to blame the St. Augustine tourists and the A1A crime scene for delaying me to the point where I missed the first band, The Shonds. Sorry guys, I heard you were great.
When we arrived The Sidekicks were just beginning their set and I don’t think I can say enough good things about these guys. Hailing from Ohio, The Sidekicks are equal parts My Morning Jacket and Jawbreaker. The singer/lead guitarist had a stage presence of someone of much more advanced years and his sense of melody left me in awe. The drummer cracked my friend up with how happy he looked as he banged away at his drums, and she also noticed that the other guitarist had a very far-away look in his eyes as he was playing. We discussed this after the show for quite a while. We have never been in touring bands ourselves, but both agreed that sometimes you just can’t help but have stuff on your mind. A thousand miles from home in a nearly frozen Florida he could have been cursing the weather, thinking about people back home, or wondering if he locked the door before he left for the tour. As a side note, I was looking through their Tumblr page and I got all nostalgic for the glory days of the D.I.Y. work ethic in punk rock, which seems to have changed with the rise of social media. I used to love the collecting show flyers because of the artwork, and it’s something I hope makes a big comeback once it finally gets to the point where it’s cool again.
The evening had a very “school night” vibe to it, and it wasn’t just because of the large number of high school kids in the crowd. It could have been the 7 o’clock doors, or the 12 and over age designation on the tickets. Once The Sidekicks finished their set, Against Me! didn’t waste any time coming to the stage. Thunderous applause came when Laura Jane Grace took the stage, and with very little fanfare, they launched into roughly a fifty minute set. The set-list was varied and seemed to cover their entire discography. In the review I did for their new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, (read the review here) I lamented the fact that I would never see Tom Gabel singing “Walking Is Still Honest” again. I don’t think that I have ever written down a more inconsequential idea in my life. Laura sang it with all of the intensity and power that the song deserves. She was all smiles, a mountainous weight lifted from her shoulders, and she seemed to be reveling in the fact that they were back in Florida, just down the road from the city she calls home.
Someone brought a State of Florida flag, which she graciously accepted, and proceeded to drape over the shoulders of guitarist James Bowman. “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong”, “Sink, Florida, Sink”, “Miami”, “Don’t Lose Touch”, “I Was A Teenage Anarchist”, and so forth and so on, were all covered. Even if, like me, you thought that New Wave and White Crosses had left something to be desired, the set-list was designed to please. They played 3-4 songs from Transgender Dysphoria Blues, including “Black Me Out”, “Dead Friend”, and “True Trans Soul Rebel”. I believe it was during “Drinking With the Jocks” that someone half-heartedly tried to start a mosh pit. Content not to join in, I set my focus on not getting kicked in the head by crowd surfers, or crushing the 90 lb. 9th graders in the front row. It was at this point that I noticed that Laura switched guitars due to a broken string. She handed her roadie her black Rickenbacker to take care of and he handed her an identical guitar right back. So, yes, she has at least two. Another side note before I wrap this up. Against Me! has one of the hardest working roadies I’ve ever seen. He sound-checks, he tunes, he changes strings, he sets up filming equipment, he shows drunken crowd surfers off the stage (either to the side, or off the way they came), he picks up knocked-over half-stacks, and occasionally he takes a microphone to the face, and he does it with a smile. I think for having such a relatively thankless assignment, he should receive some recognition. Thank you, sir.
The band left the stage after saying goodbye, and in typical fashion the crowd didn’t move an inch. Laura, James, Atom, and Inge came back to the stage and gave us three more songs before calling it a night. The boys left the stage, but Laura stuck around to shake hands with the crowd and then bid us farewell. Soaked in sweat, ears ringing, and adrenaline levels still soaring, we were sent back to the cold street, and we walked back to my friend’s apartment. We looked at pictures, and video, that she had taken for this article, and I fell asleep already thinking ahead to the next time I would get to see Against Me!
A very special thank you to the incomparable Bailey.