I can't justify my actions on July 13, 2002. I will say that it was swelteringly hot that Portland summer evening, and whatever temperature it was outside was no match for the stagnant heat of the Meow Meow, a venue known for a lot of things, fresh air circulation not being one of them. I had been an Against Me! fan since a friend turned me on to their Crime as Forgiven By EP in 2001, and within a year they had released the flawless Reinventing Axl Rose and were finally a touring entity, no longer just a pipe dream of a band I was convinced I'd never actually see.
As the years passed, it became much easier to see Against Me!. They played Solid State the following year, and then every six months or so the band would roll through town, drawing a larger crowd each time. Then there were new albums—the well-received As the Eternal Cowboy and the impressive, if a bit lopsided Searching for a Former Clarity—on bigger and better record labels, as the band's upward mobility had them against the dreaded glass ceiling of DIY culture. It wasn't quite sink or swim—more like tread water or swim—but Against Me! buckled down and did the last thing a band of self-proclaimed anarchists should probably do: They inked a big ol' contract with a major label (Sire), hooked up with a big name producer (Butch Vig), and released a glossy big-budget record (New Wave).
To this day the jury is still out on whether or not New Wave was a major label disaster, or the grand statement the band intended it to be. The songwriting of frontman Tom Gabel fluctuates between precise and driven (especially on the single "White People for Peace"), and surprisingly distracted, most notably on the latter half of the record. The album truly is an ambitious effort, filled with big ideas and a massive chip on the shoulder against both the hand that feeds them and their DIY past. Stuck between two stations, Against Me! can't win. They're still too abrasive and brainy for the masses, yet too career-minded for us kids who saw them sing "Baby, I'm an Anarchist" on that hot summer evening.
Speaking of, back to the night in question. There were some beers at My Father's Place, some great openers (Chased by Bees, if memory serves me correctly), and by the time Against Me! took the stage, I could no longer restrain my usually reserved self. There was some unfortunate dancing, possibly a windmill or two, and when the band wrapped up their set by opening the stage to the sweaty fans, I was there, doing everything in my power to resist the urge to remove my shirt and spin it around my head like a helicopter. Whatever happens at this Sunday's show, I promise I will not do that again.
Against Me! perform at the Roseland on Sunday, September 23.