I discovered Against Me! during my junior year of high school, in between quoting anarchist text in class and mulling around Tompkins on my lunch break, waiting for something to happen. It was their initial sound, the late nineties folk punk discourse on “Reinventing Axl Rose” that shot ’em out of Gainesville and across the states. It was a commentary and a vow, and by “White Crosses” and “New Wave”, that bare promise to honesty remained, shadowing changes in the band’s ideology as well as their sound. Their most recent album, the one Saturday’s Rough Trade show was centered around, is titled Shape Shift With Me, entailing the changes, tangible and conceptual, that have fueled the group for over two decades.
Rough Trade has a steadily advancing reputation as a venue and record store, settled off of Williamsburg’s Kent Ave., on a block that I remember as a nondescript strip of warehouses back when the neighborhood was still teetering on the eve of its own renown, caught between bohemia and big money. This particular show, on a humid east coast afternoon, was as intimate as it gets, and the venue’s atmosphere was one of inclusion and general support for new music and its fans, before, during, and after the show. Against Me! took the stage at two o’ clock on the dot, which is something I always appreciate- that way, the audience isn’t made to feel like their attendance is a privilege as opposed to a simple demonstration of support and unity.
Laura Jane Grace appeared first, followed by James Bowman on guitar, Atom Willard behind the drums, and Inge Johanssen on bass, and the group launched into the first half of the set, which consisted of tracks off of Shape Shift With Me, including “Boyfriend,” “Haunting, Haunted, Haunts,” and the uninhibited “Rebecca.” In between Willard’s drum gallops, Laura chatted with the audience, emphasizing her desire for everyone to feel comfortable at every show, no matter their race, class, religion, gender identity, or any other characteristic they may have been targeted for in the past. That unwavering inclusion is a concept that has only grown with the band, part of that ‘brave new world’ we were introduced to some years ago in”Fuckmylife666.”
Halfway through the set, the band went back to some of their biggest hits- until this pint, the audience was causally bopping along, feeling out the new territory on Shape Shift With Me, but the older songs brought out the usual ferocity of an Against Me! performance. No mosh pit this time, but the collective response was just as charged, albeit a lot more mellow than I’ve seen in the past. It was a bit of a weird thing to experience on a balmy afternoon, but a much- needed shock to the system after a week of things to take care of and deadlines to meet.
The brand new album, which came with the purchase of a ticket, was a set of pearly white vinyl records, their smooth polish begging for the scratch of a needle and the unmistakable voice that roughs things up until it all makes sense.