September 08, 2005
BY NOAH BONAPARTE PAIS
There’s a wonderfully daffy warning posted in the entrance to Gainesville, Fla., venue Common Grounds. It's a depiction of a block-figure lying on a bunch of other block-figures with the tagline “Crowd Surfing Kills!” below.
To the guys in Against Me!—the official, patent-pending Best Live Band In Gainesville—it’s more like an instruction manual. For any poor, pitiable souls who remain uninitiated, the shows go something like this: opening act wraps, setting off a fight for front and center; 25 minutes on, the band takes the stage to a deafening roar.
Suddenly it’s like you stepped into a warehouse-sized washing machine put on spin cycle. You’re stuck stage left when—wham—you’re sent flying towards stage right. Jammed back on the right when, whaddyaknow, you’re in the front row! You can see frontman Tom Gabel’s tattoo on the inside of his right elbow, a redhead who looks like her hair’s on fire. A giddy surfer glides by overhead; seconds later you go sprawling back to stage left.
At the Hurricane Katrina benefit show on September 8, second of two sold-out, back-to-back nights at Common Grounds, they don’t deviate much from the script. “We’re gonna do everything we did last night backwards,” says Tom defiantly at the start. No word on whether this is true, but it seems completely plausible: The band starts fast and ends slow, in between staging a scrambled, sweaty rendition of new LP Searching For A Former Clarity.
The record's a gnarled circus of propulsive punk rock, another fist-flying, collar-clenching anthology of anthems from a band rapidly becoming known for writing the book on the subject. Snarling and growling his way through highlight "Violence," Gabel sounds like a crazed Shane MacGowan searching for whoever hid his whiskey: "You’ve been keeping secrets and these kind of lies have consequences!" he yells to the crowd, who respond by yelling the words back even louder.
Later the famously brash band has some fun with the setlist, following anti-ode "From Her Lips To God’s Ears (The Energizer)" and its rowdy call-and-response of "Condoleezza—on your knees-a!" with especially prescient "Don’t Lose Touch." A palpable political charge was to be expected given the circumstances, and at this moment the band seems intent on ensuring as much tension as possible. But then, Tom stops singing just long enough to thank Barbara Bush for her concerned remarks about impoverished Gulf Coast residents. Everyone’s cheering for Mrs. Bush! The tension, apparently, has subsided.
Breathless and drenched in sweat during the scalding love song "Pretty Girls (The Mover)," Tom tosses a bottle of water at the parched crowd; in keeping with the evening's theme it gets passed around accordingly. Soon an announcement is made that, with the inclusion of matching funds from Lowe's, over $9000 has been raised for victims of Hurricane Katrina. It draws the second-loudest ovation of the night.
Streaming through the exits at the finish, the 80-degree air outside hits like a cool breeze. The crowd, soaked and shaken up, looks as if they were the ones who just weathered a killer storm. With one obvious exception: Everyone here is smiling. Somehow the best show in town just conjured up nine grand for charity out of nothing but hot, humid air. Against these guys? You’d have to be out of your goddamn mind.