Sunday, January 30, 2011

Against Me! concert review

My review originally appeared in the Orange County Register and can be viewed at:

As I watched Against Me! do an electrifying version of “White People for Peace” and heard the refrain about “protest songs” at Chain Reaction on Saturday, the mass demonstrations in Egypt immediately came to mind. Although the tune (from 2007 disc "New Wave") is about war, Tom Gabel’s politically-minded punk and folk/rock can definitely be relevant in different situations.

Since moving from respected indie label Fat Wreck Chords to major label Sire Records through the past decade (ties with the latter company were severed a few months ago), the Florida band has continually made creative and sonic strides.

Last year’s "White Crosses" - again helmed by Nirvana producer and sometime Garbage man Butch Vig - was the quartet’s best and most accessible album to date, encompassing influences ranging from fellow Gainesville musician Tom Petty and The ReplacementsPaul Westerberg to Bruce Springsteen.

Even The Boss is an avowed fan. Coincidently, drummer Jay Weinberg (son of E Street Band timekeeper Mighty Max and frequent fill-in for his father on 2009’s "Working on a Dream" world tour) recently joined Against Me! for the current run of concerts. In Anaheim, he definitely added quicker pacing, more heft and seamless transitions to the live sound.

Charging through 21 songs in an hour-long main set, the group was fiery and inspiring as ever. Forget all the naysayers complaining about lost ideals, selling out or whatever, this was an old school punk show all the way. Wildly enthusiastic young followers packed into the small, sold out club like sardines and didn’t hesitate to stage dive and crowd surf at every turn. A pair of Chain Reaction staffers had trouble controlling the barrage of intruders that constantly knocked down microphone stands, put their arms around Gabel and tried to sing with him.

The frontman, completely drenched from the sweaty room, constantly smiled and basically shrugged at all the interruptions. Following one especially robust fan sing along, he said, “there is no better high than this.”

Among the blazing standout songs: the Pogues-like “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” (off 2002 debut effort "Reinventing Axl Rose") was an exciting opener. “From Her Lips to God’s Ears (The Energizer),” where Gabel name checks Condoleeza Rice and sings about world tensions, contained needling guitar work and roaring backing vocals by James Bowman.

Weinberg did tempered tribal beats amid an intense, expansive “The Ocean” and Gabel played feedback-laden riffs on his battered black Rickenbacker guitar. Other standouts included “White Crosses,” “I Was a Teenage Anarchist,” “High Pressure Low,” “Americans Abroad,” “Turn These Clapping Hands into Angry Balled Fists” and a pair about Gabel’s home state, “Miami” and “Sink Florida, Sink.”   

Tom Gabel photo, from Epicenter 2010 Festival in Fontana, Calif., by Kelly Swift

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