The opening lines of Against Me!’s new song “Miami” provides as solid a summation of their live show experience as any other in their catalog. “We charge into danger/ No guarantees of safe places/No one can be trusted/Everyone is a suspect,” the song goes. Their Oct. 22 performance was a classic AM! experience.
Co-headlining a national tour with the hyper-spastic Blood Brothers, the group rolled into Starland Ballroom at Ninth and Spring Garden streets on a streak of amazing Philadelphia performances at the First Unitarian Church and the Trocadero.
The Gainesville, Fla., natives play an inspiring brand of what has been best described as “cow punk.” It alternates howling vocals, anthemic choruses, deceptively simple riffs and working class lyrics, reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen in his prime. Unlike a lot of bands that get passed off as “punk” and “hardcore,” there is very little emphasis on image for the band on stage, as they choose wisely to present the music for what it is, and foster the sense of camaraderie between themselves and the audience that is derived from the catharsis the songs provide for all parties involved.
Almost instantly after AM! singer/guitarist Tom Gabel gave the double thumbs-up to the venue’s sound staff to start the set, the crowd made their move, jamming forward against the stage as if they had been laying in wait the entire time for permission to let it all hang out.
While the crowd was fairly receptive to the dual openers of Uncurbed, a Swedish hardcore band making their first U.S. appearance, and True North, the American hardcore representatives for the evening, it was clear the solid bulk of the audience was at the Starland specifically to partake in the AM! live experience, leaving everything else to be chalked up as a bonus.
From the opening chords of “Those Anarcho Punks Are So Mysterious” through to the closing rally cry of “We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules),” Against Me! delivered everything the crowd expected and then some, pulling out all the energy needed to begin the symbiotic reciprocation of enthusiasm that makes the AM! live show such a special one.
Post-show, Gabel admitted the crowd safety was a definite concern, but one they try to deal with as best they can in order to stay in the smaller, independent clubs that have helped establish the band with its exponentially growing fan base.
As for his specific thoughts on the Starland Ballroom, which had never hosted the band before, Gabel admitted that “It kind of sucked. If you were in the back of the room trying to stay safe, all you saw was 3 heads bobbing around above the crowd, and if you were up-front trying to see the whole thing, you were being squashed by the crowd.”
Safety hazards aside, those among the crowd who were able withstand the barrage of heat and body contact were treated to a fantastic rapid fire 45-minute set of material pulled primarily from Against Me!’s two full length LPs, 2002’s Reinventing Axl Rose and 2003’s As The Eternal Cowboy.
The band sprinkled a few of the untitled tracks they plan to record after they finally wrap-up touring in support of Eternal Cowboy in early December.
As per tradition at an AM! show, the crowd began to rush the stage as the set came to a close, seizing their chance to sing the songs that stir up rabid devotion and forcing the members of AM! to nooks and crannies of the stage – between speakers, behind drums and even atop the bass cabinets, in order to stay standing.
If you’re still intrigued by experiencing it for yourself, take my advice and check out AM!’s last area performance of the foreseeable future on Nov. 20 at the OTHER Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ, when they open for The Bouncing Souls, because life just isn’t as fun without a little danger.
Slade Bracey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.