Singing Ourselves Hoarse: Against Me! Took Us All Home at Stubb’s


The first time I saw folk punk rockers Against Me!, at this past SXSW, I staggered out of the brief show with one thought on my mind (and a Doritos Locos taco in my hand, because it was that kind of an event): Laura Jane Grace is a freight train. My second time seeing them, this past Sunday at Stubbs, confirmed the feeling. The lead singer and songwriter for Against Me! is one of the most charismatic performers I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, thrashing and singing with a smile seemingly eternal on her face, curly hair flying in a tornado around her. Part of the joy of seeing Against Me! is just the thrill of being in the same room with this veteran performer while she does her thing.

Founded in 1997 as an anarcho punk outfit, with thrashy, melancholic, and overtly political songwriting, Against Me! emerged a renewed band at the beginning of this year with the release of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, possibly their best album and still my pick for best release of 2014. At a crisp 29 minutes, the album is a lens on Laura Jane Grace’s struggles with gender dysphoria and her much-reported-on coming out as a transgender woman in 2012. It’s Against Me! at their most vibrant and sharp, combining Grace’s pointedly literate lyrical style with the defiant energy of a person with a new lease on life.


Before Against Me! took the stage, however, we got Cory Branan, an alt-country singer-songwriter from Mississippi and a signee to Bloodshot Records alongside acts like Neko Case, Ryan Adams, and Justin Townes Earle. As an opener for a raucous four-piece punk band, Branan alone on stage with his acoustic guitar is probably not what most of the crowd was expecting, and the initial audience response was somewhat tepid (warm shout out to the drunk pricks behind me who kept heckling Branan, and even warmer shout out to the great security at Stubbs who threw a couple of them out right before AM! took the stage). I was not initially the most impressed myself, but Branan’s performance style– rough and loud and mostly lacking in polish– grew on me in a song or two. He’s a more interesting performer with a deeper catalogue than can be done justice in one paragraph in a show review, but this is what we got to work with here, so bear with me.

Branan’s songs traffic in the well-worn country tropes of whiskey, women, and worry, but his writing has enough wit and originality to keep them fresh. He sings and plays with urgent immediacy, strumming his six string as if he’s afraid it’ll stop singing if he lets it go silent. He’s the sort of performer who breaks a string in the middle of a song and just keeps going. His studio recordings are calmer and more polished, but live he is all bluster and energy, and he was a great performer despite some of the worst elements of the crowd.



Live, Against Me! translates that feeling into something cathartic and violent, heavy emphasis on the punk part of their DNA. They played with minimal breaks in between songs, moving around their six-and-some-change album discography in a seamless din of guitar licks. The speed and aggression of the show loses some of the subtlety that makes Against Me!’s music stand out from its peers in my mind, and Grace, surrounded by sound, feels somewhat inaccessible on stage, rarely pausing to banter or even take a breath. The sheer orgiastic nature of the show makes up for this, however, and even if Laura Jane Grace feels a bit farther away than she is, it’s still clear she’s relishing every moment on stage.

Against Me’s music is frequently tragic, speaking blunty about suicide, depression, and the ugly disenfranchisement of being pushed to the outskirts of a movement you once believed in. “I was a teenage anarchist,” Grace sings on 2011’s track of the same name, “but the revolution was a lie.” In a sold-out room, particularly one as aggressively tiny as the Stubbs indoor stage (I doubt Against Me! plays rooms that small on a regular basis), it takes on the tenor of a collective lamentation. Grace’s songwriting always feels intensely personal and simultaneously universally relatable, very specific reflections on the struggles of coming out on her latest record also holding deeply relatable truths about the gap between who we are and who we want to be. Take these lyrics from “True Trans Soul Rebel”: “Another night you wish you could forget/Making yourself up as you go along/Who’s gonna take you home tonight?” It’s a song about a transgender prostitute, trying to rebuild her identity piece by piece. Singing along with Against Me!, it’s a song that lets you wear that identity for a few minutes, commiserating with that weight, feeling how the gaps in that persona aren’t that different from your own. At Stubbs this past Sunday, Against Me! took us home, letting us sing ourselves hoarse.

Jake Muncy is a freelance writer, editor, and poet living in Austin, TX. In addition to writing for Ovrld, his writing appears on Loser City and anywhere else he can convince people to post it. You can contact him by email or twitter, where he tweets regularly about video games, the Mountain Goats, and sandwiches. He has very strong feelings about Kanye West.