The storied history of Against Me! is rather complicated, but its beginnings certainly involved a small-time anarchist punk rock band led by a young Laura Jane Grace. Sure, a lengthy chapter can probably be devoted to the lifelong personal journey that inspired Against Me!’s latest full-length, 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Another can center on the band’s short-lived relationship with a major label, parts of which were seemingly predicted on the band’s sprawling 2005 opus Searching for a Former Clarity. There can even be a detailed timeline explaining the band’s ever-rotating cast of drummers (five of them, to date). As of July 20, 2002, however, Against Me! had only released one full-length.
Gainesville, Fla. label No Idea Records released Reinventing Axl Rose three months prior. The album set into motion a force that hasn’t slowed, which translates to a band that hasn’t ever stopped touring, really. And while there’s been an inordinate number of lineup changes, especially over the past five years or so, the Reinventing Axl Rose quartet perhaps best illustrated an early example of who the band were at heart: four individuals playing passionate, heartfelt punk rock songs to audience members who accepted every lyric as a profound declaration.
On July 20, 2002, Against Me! played to roughly 200 people at San Diego’s Ché Café, an all-ages, student-run venue at the University of California San Diego (Today, the collective struggles to stay open in the face of administrative challenges). Frontwoman Laura Jane Grace and guitarist James Bowman played with original bassist Dustin Fridkin and former drummer Warren Oakes, drawing from a Reinventing Axl Rose-heavy setlist that included “Scream it Until You’re Coughing Up Blood (Jamaican Me Crazy,” “We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules),” and “The Disco Before the Breakdown.” They also played “Happy Birthday, Dustin,” which, according to Grace, is “a cover song that deals with a wide array of political issues.”
Watch parts one through three, uploaded to Against Me!’s YouTube channel several years ago, below.