Just one day after 2013 came to a close, opening up a brand new set of possibilities for the New Year, I had the opportunity to see Gainesville, Florida punk legends Against Me! on the Transgender Dysphoria Blues tour. Not only that, but the tour routing also allowed me to attend the second stop of the tour, or as I liked to call “the sweet spot,” where the new tour jitters are out of the way and many of the kinks are worked out. And not only that, but the tour was routed to a venue I’d been wanting to go to for well over three years, but for one reason or another, had never made it: The Intersection in Grand Rapids, MI.
As you can easily see, there was already enough for me to get excited about for this show, and I wasn’t even inside the venue yet. After piling into my sister’s ’98 Toyota Camry with her and her close friend Tyler, we set off for Grand Rapids from Alma – about a ninety minute drive.
Upon arrival, we entered the venue once the show had officially opened doors to see the relaxed Shondes setting up for their 7:30pm set. The band kicked in with the opening track off their 2011 release Searchlights, appropriately setting up the night for a fun, punk-fueled night. More recently, however, The Shondes are more recently touring off their 2013 release The Garden, an album whose material made up a majority of the setlist that evening. Regardless, this isn’t a bad thing, as the band’s natural transition from punk to a newer, poppier sound made for an interesting variety of styles. The last two songs of their set “On Your Side” and “Light Me Up” were probably my two favorites – both from The Garden – bringing the set to a pleasant sense of closure. Their music wasn’t all that impressed me though; the band’s witty banter in between songs gave the whole set a much friendlier vibe as a result, as the band discussed their thankfulness to be touring with Against Me! and joked up a storm.
Once The Shondes were over, Columbus, OH alternative quartet The Sidekicks were up next. While I can’t say I was ultimately familiar with the band’s material upon arrival, many of my online friends (primarily those in the Midwest) have talked them up to me – especially their heavily praised 2012 release Awkward Breeds. With all of this hype going into their set, needless to say, I was highly anticipating seeing them play. The band immediately kicked into “D.M.T.,” Awkward’s lead-off track, and had me hook, line and sinker. Everything about their alt-heavy sound reminded me much of ‘90s acts like Teenage Fanclub and Sonic Youth, while still holding a well-suited emo twist. Though the band didn’t talk much in between tracks (save for one joke about their next song being called, “Free Bird Against Me Smells Like Teen Spirit,” per the audience’s ridiculous requests), their cohesive style of music made for a thoroughly enjoyable thirty minutes.
And finally, roughly twenty minutes after The Sidekicks had finished their set, Against Me! took the stage. In my earlier, more influential years, my sister’s friend T.J. made me a mix-CD chock full of punk and pop-punk goodies, giving me a hefty dose of everything from Green Day to Blink 182, Motion City Soundtrack to Weezer, and everything in between he thought I’d get a kick out of. Placed right in the middle of the CD was a deep cut from Against Me’s incredible New Wave called “Piss & Vinegar” – a song I’d heard gained some controversy for being about Panic at the Disco (whom I was and still am a big fan of). After listening to the track about a dozen times in a row, I was in love, immediately asking T.J. if I could borrow more of their music. Years later, out of all of the seminal, influential punk bands of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, Against Me has and will always remain one of my favorites. Everything from their well thought-out lyrics to their aggressive hard hitting sound hit bulls-eyes, and keep me coming back for more all these years later.
The band wasted no time, firing into new track “Unconditional Love” to start off their fiery, energetic set. Soon after finishing, it was when the band’s shift to “Cliché Guevera” really got the crowd moving. The band’s set held this pattern all night – just as the band finished playing a greatest hit or two, they’d kick in with a track from their upcoming record Transgender Dysphoria Blues, out on January 21st on Total Treble Music. I had no problem with this pattern however; as many readers will find out from my glowing review of the record in this month’s upcoming issue of Substream (wink, wink), Transgender might go down as Against Me!’s best and most important record to date. It felt great finally getting to hear the narrative drenched “Paralytic States of Dependency” and the in-your-face charm of “FUCKMYLIFE666” in a live setting after listening to the record over and over for the past month or so.
It was on tracks that the band have received applause for over the past decade or so that got the hugest reaction, such as on New Wave’s “Thrash Unreal”, White Crosses’” I Was a Teenage Anarchist” and The Eternal Cowboy’s “Sink, Florida, Sink”, among many others. The mixture of everything old and new felt well-suited during their set, and made me eternally glad that I was in attendance that evening.
All things considered, the Transgender Dysphoria Blues tour is not one to be missed. With tickets selling out all over the United States at alarming speeds, you won’t want to feel left out of this exception three-band punk line-up. It’s everything you could possibly ask for from a line-up of this caliber.
Review by Landon Defever
07 – Burlington, VT – Higher Ground
08 – New Haven, CT – Toad’s Place
09 – Brooklyn, NY – Rough Trade
10 – Asbury Park, NJ – Stone Pony
11 – Lancaster, PA – Chameleon
12 – Virginia Beach, VA – The Jewish Mother
14 – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle
15 – Columbia, SC – New Brookland Tavern
16 – Greenville, SC – The Handlebar
17 – Birmingham, AL – WorkPlay Theatre
18 – Memphis, TN – The New Daisy Theatre
19 – Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge
21 – Athens, GA – 40 Watt Club
22 – Jacksonville Beach, FL – Freebird Live
24 – St. Petersburg, FL – State Theatre
25 – Orlando, FL – The Beacham Theater
26 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Culture Room