In the 1992 comedy, Wayne's World, Wayne and Garth are asked by a smarmy TV executive (played by Rob Lowe), how they felt about making some changes to their namesake program. "Change?" said Garth, "We fear Change." The same could be said for punk fans. Change isn't always embraced and it is sometimes flat-out rejected. Against Me! has gone through a laundry list of changes since the band last played in South Florida (February 2010, just prior to the release of White Crosses): a new label (Total Treble); a new drummer and bassist (Atom Willard and Inge Johansson, respectively); and a new identity and lease on life (frontwoman and founder Laura Jane Grace).
However, any fears about change that the sold-out crowd of 700 may have had were erased the moment Against Me! took the stage at the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale on January 26, 2014. From the moment the band kicked into the set opener "FUCKMYLIFE666", the fans were screaming along with every word, just as they had in that same room four years previously, albeit with some different faces. When the second song, "Pints of Guinness Make You Stronger" started, the crowd went wild, shouting along so loudly so as to drown out Grace and guitarist James Bowman's vocals.
It was then that it was clear. For all the changes that the band may have gone through in the past few years, the music and the visceral feelings that come with it have remained largely the same. Whether it was songs from their excellent new release Transgender Dysphoria Blues ("True Trans Soul Rebel", " Unconditional Love", "Dead Friend", "Black Me Out"), or songs reaching back to 2002's Reinventing Axl Rose ("Walking is Still Honest", "I Still Love You Julie"), Against Me! played with the same fire that they have been known for. Perhaps more.
New members Willard and Johansson form a powerful rhythm section that drives the band as hard as ever, with a stage presence to match. They both clearly love playing with the band, and their smiles were evident for the entire set. All four members were clearly enjoying themselves, and the fans were as well. Watching the crowd surfers and the fists in the air, Grace would step away from the microphone to interact with fans, a bit more than in past years.
After "Sink, Florida, Sink", the band left the stage while the crowd made the ubiquitous "One More Song" chant. A few minutes later, opening band The Sidekicks came out, picking up Against Me!'s instruments and belting out Rage Against The Machine's "Sleep Now in the Fire". The members of Against Me! and opening band The Shondes danced, jumped, and hugged to the side of the stage, with Johansson getting particularly excited.
As the band reclaimed their instruments and played "We Laugh at Danger (And Break All The Rules)", the room became one shouting the refrain that "… there is no hope for us". Johansson put his bass down and dove into the crowd, with Grace switching her guitar and finishing the song out on his bass. As the final notes were played and the lights came up on the sweaty exhausted faces of band and fans alike, it became clear that perhaps change wasn't so bad after all.
Pints of Guinness Make You Stronger
Walking Is Still Honest
True Trans Soul Rebel
I Still Love You Julie
White People for Peace
I Was a Teenage Anarchist
Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists
Pretty Girls (The Mover)
Don't Lose Touch
Black Me Out
Ocean (Grace dedicated this to her mother, who was in attendance, calling her "The strongest woman I know.")
Sink, Florida, Sink
We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)