From Anarchism to Transgender Dysphoria Blues: The Many Faces of Against Me!
2002: "Baby, I'm An Anarchist"
At its inception, Against Me! was a dirty fucking punk rock band. Tom, Andrew, James and Warren were road warriors who traveled in a van (that kept breaking down), screamed in the faces of like-minded revolutionaries, and sweated their faces off in basements all over the world. They were a little bit... how do you say?... CRUSTY. Reinventing Axl Rose was awash with fist-pumping anthems, but few got the crowd as sentimental and affectionate as the balls-out, oft-hilarious anthem, "Baby, I'm An Anarchist." Sample lyrics: "'Cause baby, I'm an anarchist/ You're a spineless liberal/ We marched together, for the eight-hour day and held hands on the streets of Seattle/ But when it came time to throw bricks through that Starbucks window/ You left me all alone (all alone)...." Is it just us, or did it just get a little bit hot in here?
Having established themselves as everyone's favorite angry punk rock band to raise a defiant fist in the pit to, Against Me! just went right on ahead in 2003 and released a record that -- while still awash with cathartic anthems, like "Cliche Guevara" and "Rice and Bread" -- contained a few seemingly out-of-character acoustic moments and, dare we say it, nods to country music. Thanks to the smart nature of sneaking these elements in on a record that was still largely in keeping with the band's debut, hardcore fans didn't mind one bit. Even punks need some twang in their lives now and again.
2005: "From Her Lips to God's Ears"
This is where shit started to get weird. Thanks to the 2004 documentary, We're Never Going Home -- which chronicled Against Me!'s time on the road, mocking glossier bands, taking advantage of the bar tabs of the major labels they were being wooed by, and ultimately staying with independent San Francisco label Fat Wreck Chords -- the release of third album, Searching For A Former Clarity, still took Against Me! out of the underground and into the nation's living rooms. Everyone's favorite band that no one else had ever heard of suddenly found themselves on late-night talk shows and the daytime lists of alt radio stations. But hey, the documentary proved the bandmates were faithful to their independent ethics and they were still yelling about the evils of the Bush Administration and Condoleezza Rice and such, so all was well... Right?
Maybe not. After all of that DIY, punk rock, anarcho posturing, Against Me! signed with a major label (Sire) after all. Fourth album, New Wave, was a shiny, clean departure from older AM! material, polished to a degree that was intolerable for some fans. The fact that the third single from the record was "Stop!" -- arguably the most formulaic song Against Me! has ever released (to this day) -- really didn't help. Neither did the slightly awkward music video.
2010: "I Was a Teenage Anarchist"
The first single from Against Me!'s fifth full-length didn't just boldly refer to anarchist tendencies in the past tense, it accused the underground punk scene of having a "mob mentality" and made a great deal of effort to point out that "the revolution was a lie." Never before has a band gone so out of its way to alienate its core fan base. Clearly, knowing that so many of their oldest fans had written them off as sell-outs after the Sire signing, the band just figured they had nothing to lose ... so fuck it, right? Well, turns out that there were plenty of other 30-something ex-anarcho-punks who were disgruntled with the reality that teenage dreams don't always come true as well. The band didn't just survive, it started to thrive again after the shock Sire signing.
2013: "Transgender Dysphoria Blues"
Regardless of all the changes Against Me! had gone through previously, no one could've prepared themselves for the shock of vocalist Tom Gabel coming out as transgender in a 2012 edition of Rolling Stone. From this day forth, Tom would be living as Laura Jane Grace and openly identifying as female. The joy of punk rock, however, is that it's a scene inhabited and defined by misfits -- so the outpouring of support for Laura was immense. Changes within the band continued though, with the departure of beloved bassist Andrew Seward less than a year after Laura started her transition -- a disappointing blow for old-school fans still reeling from drummer Warren Oake's 2009 departure. Regardless of it all, Against Me!'s sixth full-length finds Laura clearly re-invigorated and facing forward. This is the most exciting AM! has sounded since Searching For a Former Clarity, and, best of all, it has also given the band something truly important to shout about again. Perhaps the revolution wasn't a lie after all.