Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Breakdown After the Disco

Against Me! w/ The Riverboat Gamblers & Fake Problems
Starland Ballroom, Sayreville, NJ, 3/2/07

New Jersey is widely recognized as being one of the most terrifying places in these United States. Against Me! is widely recognized as being one of the most intelligent and exciting live acts in those same United States. The combination of the two makes for some interesing events.

Against Me!'s following has grown larger and larger with each ongoing year. This particular show being this reviewer's tenth (count 'em, 10) show, I had never seen such a large crowd at an Against Me! headlining gig. Not to mention the collective age of the crowd seemed to hover around the area of 16. But again, that's neither here nor there.

Florida's Fake Problems opened the show, and played very much like a younger, more handsome version of their headlining statemates. They most certainly won the crowd over, and after having heard some of their recorded work previous to the show, it's quite clear that they are a much stronger live act than a studio act. As long as Fake Problems can keep good company like Against Me! and O Pioneers!!! (and apparently whatever other bands have exclamation points in their names. Shit, why don't we mention !!! and On! Air! Library! while we're at it?), they'll go far in the world of punk.

Unfortunately, Texas' Riverboat Gamblers were very much the opposite of Fake Problems. The Gamblers' records are good dumb punk rock fun with a heavy dose of solid garage rock, however their live show was sporadic and over-the-top. Lead singer Mike Wiebe spent his entire set trying to get the crowd involved, running back and forth, twirling the microphone, climbing on the P.A.'s, and doing David Lee Roth-style mid-air splits. However the one thing he forgot to do for a majority of the set is sing. Wiebe spent more of the set as a hype-man than as a frontman. While his bandmates were able to keep up the backups during the drunken singalong choruses, and it was fun to see Gorilla Biscuits drummer, Luke Abbey, filling the vacant spot in the Gamblers' roster, their scatterbrained frontman was unable to keep up with the rest.

Against Me! is a band that doesn't often disappoint, and when you get them at the top of their game, you're in for one hell of a ride. Against Me! were clearly on top of their game last night. After seeing a couple of consecutive lackluster Against Me! tours, it finally seems like Gainesville's favorite active punk band have finally rediscovered themselves, and rediscovered their love for what they do. From beat one, it was clear that this show was about having fun. After months upon months of having to deal with the "sellout" label, Against Me! is finally comfortable with who they are, and what music they're playing. This setlist was truly one for the fans, featuring heavily songs from Reinventing Axl Rose and As the Eternal Cowboy. With the exception of the three "singles" from the Searching LP, there was no other material to be seen from their last album. Keeping with their traditional no bullshit sets, Tom saved his banter for the last song on the setlist, which only consisted of a mere "Thanks a lot."

The new songs sounded fantastic. It's clear that Tom's been rocking his Replacements back catalog real hard lately (if their stellar cover of "Bastards of Young" wasn't enough proof), and it's coming across incredibly. The new songs sprawl and snap a lot like "Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry, Balled Fists" (a personal favorite of mine), which serves as a great indication as to what New Wave is going to sound like.

However, the biggest moment of the night came after the setlist was completed. After cheering for an encore, the band re-emerged from the backstage area. There's not much of a way to make this more or less exciting or any way to butter it up or anything like that, so here it is:

The first encore of the night was the title track of 2002's The Disco Before the Breakdown EP. The magic of this particular song is that it's an extremely rare treat for any fan of Against Me! to see it performed live. Some people go to ten Against Me! shows over the course of four years before they ever see it played live. Some men are even content to never see the band again once they've seen it played. It's that big a deal.

Against Me! has the power to bring a room (no matter how big) together for an hour plus change like no act on this planet right now. Their old songs still sound great, and the new ones sound just as good. The sky is the limit when it comes to this band's potential. (4.5/5 stars)

And just for shits and giggles, here's the approximate setlist from that show:
Pints of Guinness Make You Strong
Cliche Guevara
From Her Lips to God's Ears (The Energizer)
Rice & Bread
New Song 1
Walking is Still Honest
You Look Like I Need a Drink
New Song 2
Reinventing Axl Rose
Americans Abroad
Sink, Florida, Sink
Don't Lose Touch
New Song 3
T.S.R. (This Shit Rules)

The Disco Before the Breakdown (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)

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