Anti-Flag - Live in New York City (Cover Artwork)


Live in New York City (2015)

live show

Ten years ago at the height of the Iraq War, Anti-Flag released their album, The Terror State. It represented a shift in the band: still featuring the same politically charged, snotty punk rock of Underground Network and A New Kind of Army, but heavier and more polished, the subject matter more focused and the disdain more biting than ever. Turns out, just as Reagan and Thatcher in the '80s gave rise to some of the best political punk bands, the reign of George W. Bush gave Anti-Flag a much better villain to rail against than the comparatively milder Clinton (not that Bill didn't have plenty of blood on his hands, but, well I probably don't have to tell Punknews readers what a catastrophe Dubya was so moving on...). As a 17-year-old just exploring my musical and political tastes, it was a seminal album for me. Though, even then I would tell you (in my self-righteous teenager, punker-than-thou way, of course) that I liked their old stuff better. Older and hopefully less annoying, I would probably say the same, but The Terror State still holds a nostalgic place in my heart. So, when the opportunity came up to see Anti-Flag play the album in its entirety to celebrate the anniversary, I figured what the hell and made my way to the Gramercy Theatre in New York City.

Anti-Flag inspires a lot of feelings among a certain segment of punk, both love and hate and a weird combo of both depending on when you first started listening, and the show-goers Thursday night reflected that. I didn't take an exact headcount but it seemed like the age range was something like 14 to 40. I definitely saw at least one kid escorted by a parent. However, I also saw one guy, had to be pushing at least 40, heavyset and balding. He was wearing an Anti-Flag shirt and stood next to the bar for most of the night, but as soon as Anti-Flag started he started jumping up and down like a hyperactive teenager. There were teenagers who had put on their finest pins and spikes, soaped up their 'hawks and got out their patchiest jean jackets. And there were 20 and 30-somethings who looked like they had rushed over from work, wearing that flannel and beard combo familiar to all of us. What I'm saying is it was an eclectic crowd, and though many of the older fans were probably like me and hadn't really followed Anti-Flag since The Terror State, I didn't get the sense anyone was there ironically. We were all looking forward to a good show.

The opening acts were a mix of styles. Homeless Gospel Choir was distilled folk punk, probably more folk than punk considering he could actually sing in tune. On the other hand, he proudly stated that he only knew five chords and didn't wish to learn any more. At first, it seemed many didn't know what to make of him. He started off the set warming up with a cover of the last verse of “Proudhon in Manhattan” by Wingnut Dishwasher Union, unfortunately only this reviewer and maybe a few others recognized it. But that didn't stop the rest of the crowd from getting into and by the end of his set he had definitely won them over with his earnest and thoughtful lyrics and sense of humor.

Such Gold took the stage next. The age divide became the most apparent during their set as most of the older show goers made their way downstairs to the bar and merch tables while the younger set stuck around.

After Such Gold, the pit really started to fill up. People began pushing their way to the front in anticipation of Anti-Flag. I guess many of them hadn't read the flyer because then they would've known that before the set Justin Sane would be hosting a conversation with representatives from Amnesty International about police brutality. I don't know about anyone else but I was really interested in seeing it, though I doubted we'd hear anything groundbreaking or substantial. The band came out to a huge round and applause and were joined by two young guys from Amnesty. I have to say, it was kind of awkward despite Justin and his guests' clear enthusiasm. Especially because the rest of the band basically sat on stage and didn't really say anything. Anyway, Justin asked the activists about topics like the recent protests in Ferguson (one of them had been down there) and what kinds of things people could do if they wanted to get involved in political causes. The crowd was welcoming and enthusiastic, but they seemed to have some trouble switching gears from punk show to political discussion, despite the obviously political nature of the main act. Beyond one drunk dude next to me shouting “Yeah, fuck cops!” a few times, it didn't seem like the crowd was that engaged. Still, it was a cool thing to see the band try to get their fans more active in politics beyond just singing along to choruses. There was a lot of encouraging people to go out and protest, and Justin tried his best to give suggestions for other ways to participate in political action besides taking to the streets, probably knowing his audience was mostly made up of white, middle class high school and college types who may be reluctant to jump right into street protests. After 20 to 30 minutes, Justin thanked their guests and the band promised to be back in a few “to rock your faces off.”

I'd say that promised was fulfilled. After a short break, Anti-Flag took the stage again, instruments in hand, and with little fanfare jumped right into it. As soon as the first chords of “Turncoat” played the crowd was hooked, most of them singing along to the most memorable single off the album. The first crowd surfer was up in minutes and pounced on by security shortly after, but other than that I didn't see much drama. The next couple of songs got a slightly more muted response, but not by much. Maybe they hadn't listened to the album lately but it was obvious it was fondly remembered by everyone there. The band played with a gusto familiar to anyone who's been to one of their shows. That energy hasn't changed one bit, though sometimes it came off a little too practiced. I guess when you've been doing the same power stances and jump kicks for a couple decades that happens. I did enjoy the periodic spins Justin would employ almost every song to punctuate a stellar bass line or guitar riff. The songs themselves still rocked. The lyrics may be a little dated in specifics, but the basic messages still resonated all these years later, if not more so considering they were written at the beginning of what's become over a decade of perpetual war. The band made that subtext explicit, dedicating “When You Don't Control Your Government, People Want To Kill You” to President Obama, his drone strikes in the Middle East and those who protested against the Iraq War in 2003 and those who are still protesting war and injustice in 2015. “Mind The G.A.T.T.,” if written today, would probably be something like "Mind The TPP" (less catchy though). That didn't stop the audience from belting out the chorus. Only Anti-Flag could get a crowd to enthusiastically rail against trade agreements signed decades ago. They closed out the album with “One People, One Struggle”, the anthemic call for global solidarity, and then “Fuck the Flag and Fuck You,” a fast-paced, short and sweet, snotty throw back that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Die For the Government. It was a raucous and energetic end to the album, but it did feel kind of anti-climactic. For a second it seemed like that would be all, but the flyer did say “The Terror State plus more” and they weren't lying.

After a short pause to thank everybody for coming out they continued with a song from their newest album, which most of the crowd clearly enjoyed. Then they jumped into the classic “Fuck Police Brutality,” but not before dedicating it to Eric Garner, the Staten Island man recently choked to death by the NYPD for, essentially, no reason. After a couple of newer songs they ended the night with three old songs, first the iconic “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Things started to get wild at that point, people surging forward while the circle pit which had been a presence throughout the night suddenly doubled. It was getting late now, so I think everyone knew what would happen next. Sure enough, a couple hundred voices were ready to join Sane's in screaming “you gotta die, gotta die, gotta die for your government.” In an awesome display between the chorus and the third verse Justin and Chris Head kept the pace while the roadies, Pat and Chris #2 moved Pat's drum set and Chris #2's mic and guitar amp into the middle of the crowd, where they jumped right back into the song. It was pretty great, fans crowded around them, some attempting to grab the mic for themselves, others just jumping over people trying to get closer. They followed this up with one more song, "Drink Drank Punk," almost ironically considering the age range of the crowd but no less energetically. In over 20 years this band hasn't lost a step, playing songs from old to new with equal conviction and stage presence. Maybe none of the kids in the crowd would go out and protest the next day, but damn if everybody didn't leave fired up.