There seem to be three sets of people on the topic of Against Me! and their new record New Wave. First, we have the ignorant “punX” that would not like the album, even if it sounded like Reinventing Axl Rose (the band’s debut LP and Holy Grail to smelly kids everywhere). Next, we have those that legitimately don’t like the record and/or the band, based on personal tastes. Finally, there are those that enjoy almost everything the band has done, enjoy watching a talented band grow, and instead of slashing tires at the news of their success, encourage and congratulate them. I’m a member of group three.
On the first leg of their New Wave support tour, Against Me! opted to bring two promising young bands along: San Francisco’s Two Gallants, and New Brunswick, NJ’s the Gaslight Anthem. Traveling to Charlotte, NC from my home base of Richmond, VA is about a 4½-hour trip, but I was curious to see the Gaslight Anthem (whose debut LP Sink or Swim is my favorite release of the year) in a larger setting, and with an accomplished group such as Against Me!. Plus, it was a reason to take half a day off work and hit the road with a carload of friends.
Arriving at the venue, the first thing we could not help but notice was the mammoth size of Against Me!’s tour bus. With many modern amenities it’s definitely the way to travel. The “punX” can complain and shout “sell-out” all they want, but I can tell you from first-hand experience, I’d much rather tour the country in something like that, than a crammed van.
As the Gaslight Anthem took the stage I was immediately impressed by the number of people swarming to the front to check out the set. The crowd’s enthusiasm during tracks like “I Coulda Been a Contender,” “Boomboxes and Dictionaries” and “We’re Getting a Divorce, You Keep the Diner” was very apparent, but the real surprise came with the response the band obtained during newer songs like “Say I Won’t (Recognize)” from their upcoming EP, Señor & the Queen. This song in particular really struck me, as I experienced the band playing it live for the first two weeks of their tour out west, and as it is now in the normal set rotation it's been perfected through various stages of experimentation. It was nice to see the final product in such a populated environment.
The performance was very crisp, clean and focused; with front man Brian Fallon's vocal capabilities sounding stronger than ever, and the band performing with a greater sense of energy and urgency. With friends and family traveling down the east coast (as this was the closest their tour with AM! was coming to the north), the band played with all smiles the entire set, and the positive energy was obviously infectious to the rest of the crowd. One of the best reactions I've seen for an opening band in a long time.
Next up were Two Gallants, a two-piece band with a much larger sound that I’ve heard is generating some waves in the indie rock scene. I watched a small portion of their set, and though I couldn’t really get into their sound, I could appreciate what they were doing, and based on the crowd response they received, I believe they are doing just fine without my seal of approval.
With the anticipation from the audience building for Against Me!, I watched from the side as the band went through a very fine-tuned run of a very long set. This isn’t to say anything came off as forced. Never ones for much stage banter, the band has become so precise in their live effort, it's really more of a compliment to the listener. You purchase a band’s records, wear their T-shirts, you deserve to get the band at 100% when you come to their show. Against Me! is giving you 110%. Granted, many will not appreciate the heavy inclusion of tracks from New Wave. I don’t write down sets, but by my estimation, I believe they played almost every song from it. Of course, older favorites made their way into the performance, like the opener “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong.” Plus, a heavy rotation of songs from their entire catalog (sans the Crimes EP and earlier releases) made sure that all in attendance would hear a few of their favorite tracks. Obviously, with Tom’s run-in with the coffee “punX” happening just a few days prior in Florida, there were bound to be some people at the show attempting to push more buttons. Towards the end of the show, one kid decided it would be a good idea to spit on Tom as he was performing. This young man was immediately escorted outside, where through the backstage side door I could see him pleading his case to security. Funny, I don’t really know what excuse you can make for hawking a loogie on someone. Regardless, the band eventually returned to play a brief encore, everyone else had fun, and the show ended.
Having seen AM! multiple times in the past few years, I can honestly say they are not the same band anymore. Instead, they have become professional musicians, people that love what they do and aim to do it for as long as they can. And if they can afford to pay rent, eat hot meals, and travel in comfort…more power to them.