Taking a break from their supporting tour with Green Day, Against Me! stopped by Ottawa’s Bronson Centre on Friday for a two-hour set of defiant and deeply personal punk rock.
The relentless set, marked by distorted guitars, propulsive drumming, and frontwoman Laura Jane Grace’s distinctive yowling, yearning vocals, proved that the Against Me! can more than hold their own as headliners.
The show was short on banter, with Grace occasionally pausing to reflect on her experience touring with Green Day (who, she notes, were her first concert as a teenager) or salute the collaborative D.I.Y. ethic that has characterized her career.
“D.I.Y. doesn’t mean ‘do it yourself,’” she clarified; “it means do it with your friends.”
Against Me! songs have always melded the personal and the political; for instance, their early classic “Baby, I’m an Anarchist” is a tongue-in-cheek folk ditty about a revolutionary rejecting their “spineless liberal” lover. The band’s most recent albums, last year’s Shape Shift With Me and 2014’s seminal Transgender Dysphoria Blues, have been increasingly intimate but no less potent.
For instance, show-opener “True Trans Soul Rebel” describes gender dysphoria in heartbreaking terms: “You should have been a mother / You should have been a wife / You should have been gone from here years ago / You should be living a different life.”
Against Me! songs often go to dark places, touching on, in Grace’s words, experiences of “existential despair” and “being made to feel like you’re unworthy of love.”
Seeing the band live, you’re struck by how raw some of the lyrics are.
References to “track marks” and suicide attempts animate even the most danceable songs. However, the bleak imagery is undercut by undertones of hope, whether explicit (the drug-addicted subject of “Thrash Unreal” declaring that “she wouldn’t change anything for the world”) or the implicit uplift of an anthemic chorus.
The band’s trademark defiance in the face of despair makes for an electrifying punk show. There was a certain catharsis in the air as a hall full of Bronson Centre punks gleefully sang along to “I was a teenage anarchist, and the revolution was a lie,” or pounded their fists in support of the opening song’s “God bless your transsexual heart” chorus.
The sold-out crowd knew every lyric by heart, and was more than happy to take over lead vocal duties on standards like “Baby, I’m an Anarchist.”
The set was heavy on tracks from the band’s last two albums, as well as cuts from their 2007 major label debut New Wave. Highlights included “Black Me Out,” a seething standout from Transgender Dysphoria Blues, as well as the poetic “The Ocean.”
Along with opening acts Chuck Coles and Mobina Galore, Against Me! provided Ottawa fans with an excellent night of uncompromising, and frequently inspiring, punk rock.