Review / photos: Against Me! dig deep, blast forward in raging set at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg
Against Me!’s show Friday night at State Theatre in St. Petersburg was a reminder that a lot has changed for the Florida punk band — and yet a lot has stayed the same.
Only half of the band’s longest-running lineup, frontwoman Laura Jane Grace and guitarist James Bowman, remains. A quintessentially Floridian act, Against Me!’s lead member has since moved to Chicago. And besides a solo acoustic set by Grace in September, this is the group’s first local show since she came out as transgender in 2012.
But in many ways, not much has changed. Grace remarked that she and Bowman have been playing the State Theatre for years now. They just released their first non-major label record in nearly a decade. And on Friday, they played a career-spanning set ranging from 2002’s Reinventing Axl Rose to their new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues.
Opening the show was Brooklyn’s The Shondes. Featuring a violinist, the band’s cabaret-punk sound brought to mind The World/Inferno Friendship Society or Dexys Midnight Runners.
Following them was Columbus punk band The Sidekicks, who wrote the second-best Weezer song in 17 years with The Whale and Jonah (the best being Sundials’ New York Crunch.) They played a rollicking, long hair-shaking version of that track, as well as a sobering performance of 1940s Fighter Jet.
Then it was time for Against Me!, with a crowd at sold-out (or nearly sold-out) capacity buzzing with excitement to see them. And in their first Tampa Bay show in years, the group did not disappoint.
Former Rocket from the Crypt drummer Atom Willard and The (International) Noise Conspiracy bassist Inge Johansson filled out the new lineup. Johansson seemed teleported from some alternate Ramones band, with a bowl cut, all-black wardrobe and bountiful enthusiasm.
Grace was full of energy as well, beaming at one point “I f---ing love you, St. Petersburg!” Arguably the highest-profile musician to come out as transgender, the singer seemed revitalized after finishing an album that she freely admitted "almost killed the band" in a Spin interview.
Much of their setlist came from Transgender Dysphoria Blues, although regrettably not the great self-titled opener. True Trans Soul Rebel and F---mylife666, which were previewed acoustically in Grace’s solo show and the True Trans EP, got searing electric renditions. They also played Dead Friend, a punk elegy to match Jim Carroll’s People Who Died.
But the band also went all the way back to 2002’s Reinventing Axl Rose. After Grace described Walking is Still Honest as “a song I wrote in a past life” in September, it was pleasantly surprising to hear Pints of Guinness Make You Strong and We Laugh at Danger And Break All the Rules from the classic record.
They also played several tracks off 2003’s As the Eternal Cowboy and 2005’s Searching for a Former Clarity. There was the bouncing bassline of Don’t Lose Touch, as well as the Florida-centric fan favorites Miami and Sink Florida Sink.
In fact, there wasn’t too much revisiting of their two major label albums — the hits Thrash Unreal and I Was a Teenage Anarchist as well as a few other cuts. One of those was New Wave’s The Ocean, with its significant lyrics of “If I could’ve chosen, I would’ve been born a woman/my mother once told me she would have named me Laura.”
By the encore, which ran through Transgender Dysphoria Blues highlight Drinking with the Jocks and Reinventing Axl Rose’s We Laugh at Danger and Break All the Rules, the point was made. Twelve years ago, Against Me! was one of the best Florida bands around. Today, they still are.
-- Jimmy Geurts, tbt*