It’s been two years since US based punk band Against Me! have toured the UK, tonight they were in Bristol on the penultimate date of this tour, at a night club called SWX. SWX is primarily known as a dance club but since it’s rebranding, hosts live bands too, as long as they finish before the club night. This meant the curfew of 10pm seemed a little early for a punk gig but then Against Me! always hit you in a fast and wild burst, leaving you desperately wanting more, so much more, as Against Me! might say. So in that way, it fitted perfectly.
The venue filled up at a super-fast rate when the first of two support acts, Mobina Galore took to the stage. Lead singer, Jenna has a commanding grit to her voice and the chords of her guitar create ferocious melodies, dragging you in. Indeed, all eyes were on the stage, which is rare for an opening act to have such prowess. Mobina Galore are at once a fresh presence while calling to mind bands such as Dilly Dally, Muncie Girls and early No Comply. It was clear by the time the short set was over, the crowd wanted more, people were searching on their phones to find releases and Spotify accounts. To have come so far in a relatively short space of time, (Mobina Galore formed in 2010), is impressive but the songs are addictive and the stage presence normally the preserve of more seasoned bands.
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More and more people filled the venue and it was clear to see that Against Me! have risen in popularity since their gig at the Bierkeller in 2014, there was hardly space between you and the next audience member by the time the second of the two support acts, Milk Teeth, took to the stage. Milk Teeth’s melodic distortion is reminiscent of Sonic Youth in their 1990s heyday and 90’s revivalists, Bully. At first it seemed that there was real introspection here, the lyrics are heartfelt and you need to hear them over a wash of dream-like guitars and then lead singer, Becky Blomfield charged forth with an almighty gravelled scream demanding the audience to move. Milk Teeth are striking, their live set electric and their stage dedications to friends, genuine. It would be easy to see them headlining before long.
Against Me! almost bounded onto the stage, the energy was at such a peak. They seem in exuberant spirits as they launch into True Trans Soul Rebel and announce their arrival. The crowd feeding off of that energy like willing vampires. As with many an Against Me! show it’s raw and the musicianship tight. Bassist Inge Johansson leaps and spirals, in a display of stage acrobatics rarely seen in any other band, by the time the band play Haunting, Haunted, Haunts, it’s as though there is a coiled spring inside Johansson’s body, you begin to wonder.
The set list is wonderfully varied. At one point, lead singer, Laura Jane Grace, confessed that having seven albums worth of material, makes it hard to choose what songs to play live. What was wonderful was the mix of the old and the new and how they melded together. Newer songs (from latest release Shape Shift With Me), such as 333 and Rebecca, proved just a popular with sing-alongs as older favourites such as Pints of Guinness Make You Strong (from Against Me!’s debut, Reinventing Axl Rose), which provided many an audience member with an excuse to crowd surf their way to the front.
What was particularly special was the resurfacing of older material that Against Me! don’t often play live. This happened in the form of Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%. It was an emotional moment as Laura Jane Grace confessed, ‘Can you live with what you know about yourself when you’re all alone?’. There was poignancy here as she screamed those lines, you felt them in the very pit of your stomach.
Drummer Atom Willard spent much of the gig going crazy with the sticks, rarely do you see such a vibrant and skilled drummer, this particularly stood out on White Crosses and Bamboo Bones, with its line, ‘Don’t let them break you. Don’t let them tell you who you are’. It could have been the theme of the evening.
The encore featured another special moment when the band members left the stage, for Laura to return to the stage by herself, comment on the state of the world in 2016 and play a rousing version of Baby, I’m An Anarchist!
Against Me! appeared genuinely pleased that the crowd had turned out for them. As they closed the show with the crowd pleasing Sink, Florida, Sink, most of us were wondering if Christmas had come early.