Sat July 13
I fucking love basements. Of all the reasons to pack up and move here to Portland--and there were many--in the end, it was the basements that brought me here. Not the cheap rent, cheaper beer, or dismal weather. Nope. I moved to PDX because this is a basement town. Besides being a fantastic place to have band practice, hide your stash, or do the laundry--basements are by far the best places to see punk rock shows. That said, let me introduce you to the greatest basement band ever: Gainesville Florida's Against Me!.
Sounding like The Pogues sharing Guinness with Stiff Little Fingers at a house party, Against Me! possess this sort of sing-a-long charisma that helps them rise to top of the bike punk world. Each song is an anthem of teenage political idealism; the word "jaded" does not register with this band. Instead, they prefer to sing (and scream) about community, politics, and pretty much everything else under the sun. Rarely does music have such a personal and social effect on the listener. While the politics Against Me! cover are usually local and community-based, they never leave the listener with the confusion that usually follows a political song with lyrics straight out of a Chomsky book. Since they are essentially a stripped-down punk band--more acoustic than electric--they rely on the ability to knock down walls and take their energetic live show from the stage to the floor. (Or, in this case, the basement floor.) After all, these are songs sung best while swinging from the ceiling pipes and rafters on the basement ceiling. Feel free to consider this the soundtrack to the May Day protests, or the song stuck in your head as you mourn the breakup with your activist girlfriend. As the band says, "when it came time to throw bricks through the Starbucks window, you left me all alone." (How romantic.)
What started out as an acoustic solo project of Thomas Gabel, the band now boasts three additional members--Dustin Fridkin (bass), James Bowman (guitar), and Warren Oakes (drums). Against Me! climbed their way up the always-eccentric Gainesville punk scene by starting at the very bottom: they played basements and laundromats. "It's not something that happens often," Gabel says, referring to the band's early laundromat shows. "It was the kind of thing where permission was not given for the show to be done in the laundromat--we all just kind of took it over. Ten other people played; it was an amazing show."
What's even stranger than such a powerful band playing next to the fabric-softener vending machine, is their point of origin: Against Me! is one of many bands to call Gainesville, Florida its home. The tiny central Florida college town--which is ground zero of one of the most notoriously jock-friendly colleges in the country, University of Florida--is also home to such punk mainstays as Hot Water Music, Twelve Hour Turn, and Discount. The band considers it "a weird phenomenon," but like most Gainesville bands, Against Me! is quick to pledge their allegiance to their hometown. "I've lived in Gainesville for almost four years now, and from what I understand, it's been like this for a long time," professes Gable. "There's just always been stuff going on; this town has an awesome history. I love Florida."
Recently, the band's newfound popularity has turned their smaller shows into nothing more than extreme violations of fire code--basically, they are just getting too damn popular. You can blame the new record, Reinventing Axl Rose, on Gainesville's mighty No Idea Records, but after watching just one chaotic live show by Against Me!, you'll know all the credit belongs to the band's explosive performances.
Booming popularity aside, though, the band is a long way from hiring publicists or finally getting that fancy tour bus. "We can manage ourselves just fine. If we ever needed help booking a tour, we'd find someone we feel comfortable with and respect; I wouldn't even know what to ask a publicist to do for me." The band's maxim is plain and clear, as shouted in the title track of the record; "We want a band that plays loud and hard every night with one fist in the air, our arenas are basements and bookstores across an underground America." However, their DIY devotion goes beyond scene politics. Gabel is quick to point out, it isn't music that made him an activist, it's been personal for him all along. "I don't think it was really so much music that lead me into activism/punk; more so events in my life." Whatever the case, Against Me! create one of the few situations where a band can be both so political and so personal that they are impossible to be ignored.