Live Review: Against Me! at 40 Watt Club, Tuesday, Jan. 21

Pardon me in advance for forgoing a lengthy discussion of Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace and her recent gender transition. That story has been told and re-told hundreds of times by now. Grace’s coming out is simultaneously relevant and yet irrelevant to how the band’s new record, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, will be received by the public.

What matters is that the band’s triumphant return to the 40 Watt—a club that Grace calls her favorite in the US—on the date of its new album’s release was a powerful event to witness. The Gainesville, FL-based group (now with a few new members in tow) might be from out of town, but I’m not sure whether another club in the country could have served as a more perfect location for an album release show.

After a blistering opening song from Transgender Dysphoria Blues (“Fuckmylife666”), Grace grinned and asked the crowd, “Are you feeling alive?” For the rest of the hour-plus set, the crowd responded with a resounding “yes,” throwing their bodies around in 4/4 time and turning a typical Tuesday into something timeless.  

Beneath the wall of sound that accompanies the band’s new songs, there are also incredible hooks. It’s no surprise, then, that the crowd was taking part in the sing-alongs, whether or not they were familiar with the material. New anthems like “Unconditional Love” and “Drinking With the Jocks” sounded especially fierce, thanks in no small part to the chants of James Bowman, the only other member of Against Me! that has been there for the long haul. In my view, Bowman is indispensible to the band’s sound; his howl on “Don’t Lose Touch,” from Searching for a Former Clarityonly underscores his worth to the group. 

When Grace played older songs that made early references to her gender dysphoria (especially “Ocean,” from New Wave, a track that referenced her new name before the transition was public), the crowd cheered in solidarity. These songs might not be the strongest in the band’s back-catalog, but they’ve certainly taken on a new resonance over the past couple years. 

To end their three-song encore, Grace and company offered “We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)”, their perennial set closer. Longtime fans relished the moment, throwing their arms up in a corporeal celebration accompanied by distorted guitars (the band’s guitar and drum tech even engaged in a little crowd-surfing). “I cannot help but hold onto the times/ When what was spoken was a revolution in itself,” sang Grace with reckless abandon.

Perhaps I’m romanticizing what rock music can do, but the band’s performance last night was something of a revolution itself. We could debate the philosophical merit of a concept like “authenticity” ad nauseambut when punk music works (even in the more accessible variety that Against Me! has crafted), it suspends any academic discussion. For a few fleeting moments Tuesday, Grace and Against Me! championed the concept of being true to oneself—and playing music that shares that sentiment. Virtues, indeed.