Against Me!

support Roger Harvey + Caves
author TL date 08/04/15 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

With 2014's "Transgender Dysphoria Blues", the Gainesville punk-rockers in Against Me! put themselves in for many early album of the year nominations, as the results of the gritty stories for the first time being written from revealed perspective of the now openly transgender frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, whom fans for years had known as Tom Gabel. To call them one of the most relevant punk rock bands of current times is only on point then, meaning that we of course prioritized a visit to their show tonight in Lille Vega. And the fact that they've never once disappointed live didn't hurt either. First though, some words about the supports:

All photos in the article credited to philipbh.com

Caves

The British trio Caves are no strangers to Rockfreaks.net, as we have in fact reviewed the band several times, for example when they played supports to bands like Spraynard and Andrew Jackson Jihad here in Copenhagen as well. Not much have changed in their show since those times. Caves play fast and perform with loads of energy, staggering about and making scissor kick jumps given any opportunity, with guitarist "Lou" and bassist "M" trading frantically shouted girl/boy vocals on top of the rock. The band has made some fans here it seems, with select members of the crowd knowing the words to a couple of songs in the set.

And you need to know Caves' songs in advance because clarity of lyrics is a subtle quality that there's no time for as they race through each song relentlessly. You can only make out a few words, which could partly be because the guitar is a bit low in the mix so it doesn't clutter the higher frequencies as much. Regardless, Caves are as always electrifying to watch for the first couple of songs, but as their half hour comes to a close, you also understand why they mostly play support shows: There's simply very little variety in their expression, particularly not because the guitar and bass almost invariably play in sync, instead of maybe mixing things up with some trade off patterns here and there. Keeping things interesting like that, or putting emphasis on getting the lyrics more across could greatly help the band give crowds more distinct and lasting impressions of their different songs.

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Roger Harvey

Pittsburgh songwriter Roger Harvey, on the other hand, is an artist that Rockfreaks has not previously written a single word about. As it soon turns out though, the singer/guitarist performs with a sound most reminiscent of acts like Weakerthans and Bright Eyes, with a softly sung, very lyrically oriented singing style similar to the latter's Conor Oberst. The musical backdrop provided by himself and the friends he's brought along on bass and drums is more simple though, not coming across as quirky or characteristic as any of the mentioned references, rather seeming like its main function is to simply act as a skeleton for Harvey to tell his stories over.

Regrettably the guitar is still low, while the kick drum, in particular, is quite loud, as if its mic has somehow moved a bit too close. This hinders the storytelling somewhat, though it's partly also because the modest Harvey doesn't wield his otherwise peculiar voice with quite as much charisma, and because the songs' progressions seem a bit too ordinary. Looking at the Bright Eyes comparison, Oberst's band has a number of truly great songs that jump right at you, but also a lot that have some trouble standing out, and it's the latter type that Harvey's set tonight is most reminiscent of. We get the sense that there's personality and potential here, but that some more experience and perhaps a slightly more inventive approach could help.

Against Me!

Apart from their front figure, Against Me! has been through a transformation as a band as well, with guitarist/backing singer James Bowman being the only other member to stick it out while other long time contributors to the band have retired. The drums are now manned by experienced The Offspring and Angels And Airwaves sticksman Atom Willard, while the much-loved bassist Andrew Seward has been replaced with Inge Johansson of The (International) Noise Conspiracy and several other bands. If you didn't know any better though, you'd think that especially Johansson had waited his whole life to get to play this show, as he quickly starts bouncing around like a kid on a sugar high, while the band gets things started with "True Trans Soul Rebel", "Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong" and "New Wave".

By now the crowd in Vega has grown from a worrisome few during Caves to the room being well-populated though still with enough room to move and feel comfortable. Economically speaking it's still sub-optimal, but in terms of audience comfort it's perfect, and if there's one thing to take away from the first few songs it is that the guests came to sing bellow lyrics back at the band tonight. They clearly like the newer songs, and they love the older ones, with a throng of hands rising up in the air along with the voices during "Pints Of Guinness". And new or old, it's clear that Against Me!'s songs are a lot more developed and diverse than their supports', with the pace changing often and with particularly the strumming patterns helping things come across dynamic and full of life.

Meanwhile, Grace is her transformed, smiling and extrovert self (compared to her often reserved performance while performing as a man), gesturing to the music when there's time for it in the breaks in her guitar playing, and otherwise just rocking about while roaring the lyrics as gravelly-voiced as ever. "FuckMyLife666", "Don't Lose Touch" and "I Was A Teenage Anarchist" are aired and eventually some crowd surfing takes place, with Grace trying to reach the mic out to the crowd surfer, who is however carried away too soon. As a whole, the band has slowed down compared to earlier years, as there are now occasionally all of two seconds of quiet time between songs, compared to earlier when they would play unrelentingly and simply steamroll the audience with their seemingly infinite list of good songs. All in all though, the pace is still merciless compared to most bands, which is still awesome even if it does mean that some of the stuff Grace tries to say between songs is drowned out.

Regrettably, as the show goes on Grace seems to wear out her voice a bit, which is particularly noticeable in "Talking Transgender Dysphoria Blues" and "Trash Unreal", where crucial parts are sung in way lower melodies than usual, and though Bowman does his best to carry the day with his higher voice, he is too low in the mix to prevent a drop in impact in some of the band's otherwise best songs. The show is a bit "punk" like that overall, as in less than perfect soundwise, but with the regular set ending with "Cliché Guevara", "The Ocean" and "Black Me Out" - before an encore offers us a new song, "Drinking With The Jocks", "Sink, Florida, Sink" and "We Laught At Danger (And Break All The Rules)" - things still play out on several high notes, with people jumping about and roaring and gesticulating towards the stage like lives depended on it. It only goes to show what people here already knew though, namely that even in suboptimal conditions Against Me! still kill it. Plain and simple.

Setlist:

  • 1. True Trans Soul Rebel
  • 2. Pints of Guinness Make You Strong
  • 3. New Wave
  • 4. Walking Is Still Honest
  • 5. T.S.R. (This Shit Rules)
  • 6. FuckMyLife666
  • 7. Don't Lose Touch
  • 8. I Was A Teenage Anarchist
  • 9. Transgender Dysphoria Blues
  • 10. Thrash Unreal
  • 11. Unconditional Love
  • 12. Cliché Guevara
  • 13. The Ocean
  • 14. Black Me Out

Encore:

  • 15. *new song*
  • 16. Drinking With the Jocks
  • 17. Sink, Florida, Sink
  • 18. We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)

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