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Better Than: Watching the Astros’ season circle the drain at Minute Maid Park.
Download: For context, something from the band’s first two albums, Reinventing Axl Rose and As the Eternal Cowboy.
As important as it is for professional music critics to resist growing too cynical from the unrelenting tide of mediocrity and outright crap that flows into our in-boxes every day, we should exercise similar restraint when that rare pearl does surface. Expressing undue enthusiasm in these hyper-cred-conscious times is the Pitchfork-era equivalent of the boy who cried wolf; extreme cases may result in suspension or revocation of the guilty party’s license to blog.
Then a band like Against Me! blows through town. Wolf, motherfuckers.
Photos by Dana Donovan
Mind you, I can hardly claim to have discovered anything. I may or may not have given their previous album, Searching for a Former Clarity (Fat Wreck), a spin at my previous paper; I don’t really remember. Either way, obviously, I wasn’t that impressed. So what? Founded a full decade ago, the band was doing just fine before us latecomers came along: rabid cult following, constant touring, beloved by LiveJournal users across this great land of ours.
Then like a lot of others, I’m sure, my curiosity got piqued by Spin’s question on the cover of its latest issue, “Have Against Me! made the year’s best album?” (New Wave was released last month on Sire.) The answer: Maybe. It’s pretty much down to them, the White Stripes and Amy Winehouse at this point.
Never mind the hundreds of people at Friday’s show the band’s age (mid-20s) or younger, the ones who knew every word to the pre-New Wave songs – whichever one has the “Condoleezza” refrain went over especially well – who stage-dove with abandon and had their hands in the air almost from the opening chord. Big deal. You can see that practically any night of the week at Proletariat, Fitzgerald’s or Notsuoh.
The real sign Against Me! has hit a whole new level lies in the reactions of Meridian owner Bob Fuldauer and his pal, the local Budweiser rep whose name, tragically, escapes me. Both of them - more than old enough to have adult children at the show - were mightily impressed, rocking out and nodding along like it was Cheap Trick or somebody up there.
“This is fun rock & roll,” Fuldauer said during New Wave’s “White Kids for Peace.” “You don’t have to think about it too much.”
But you can, and probably should, which is the other thing that makes Against Me! great. Each song was an anthem Friday, but like their most obvious forerunners (at least to my ears) Bad Religion and Social Distortion, they were anthems with a conscience. There’s plenty of partying in “Thrash Unreal,” and just as much reckoning with its consequences: any song that mentions Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” and contains the line “No mother ever dreams her daughter’s going to grow up to be a junkie” is inherently awesome.
“White Kids” recognizes there’s something mildly absurd about suburban youth protesting a faraway war from their middle-class comfort zones, but can’t quite condemn them for it; their hearts are in the right place, after all. Against Me! is on the horns of its own dilemma anyway: opener “Americans Abroad” basically says every time they tour overseas, they’re as guilty of forcing Americanization down other cultures’ gullets as Disney or Starbucks. Good things those songs are so catchy, right?
That’s right, and New Wave centerpiece “Stop,” which got an extended disco-funk workout Friday, may be the best example of all. The lyrics are basically a step-by-step account of how Against Me! got where they are, with a cautionary chorus that urges would-be copycats to “think about what’s important to you.”
The song’s slithery beat, meanwhile, is so all-consuming it effectively makes listening to the words optional; you can take the message to heart, or you can just dance. Either way is fine with the band, because in the future they should have plenty of takers on either side of that equation. -- Chris Gray
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Personal Bias: As noted, any band that even remotely resembles Social D is going to get the thumbs-up.
Random Detail: Led Zeppelin, U2 and now Against Me! have all written songs called “The Ocean.” Another sign they’re destined for greatness?
By the Way: New Wave’s producer is sometime Garbage-man Butch Vig, also behind the boards for Nevermind and Siamese Dream.
Click here for a slideshow.