I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Against Me! perform live three times now-first at Summerfest in 2010 and twice in 2014, following the release of their last studio album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. So trust me when I say that their new live album, 23 Live Sex Acts, definitely captures the essence of an Against Me! show.
Frontwoman Laura Jane Grace is at the top of her game, her vocal performance a mix of singing and shouting. Powerful performances by Inge Johansson (bass), Atom Willard (drums) and James Bowman (guitar) back her up, and keep energy high throughout the entire performance. As is the case with many live performances, some songs are performed with slightly different melodies than the studio versions fans are accustomed too, but they never feel out of place, and the backing harmonies still fit in with the changes.
The set list is fantastic, including older fan favorites like “Sink, Florida, Sink”, “Thrash Unreal”, and “I Was a Teenage Anarchist”, and newer tracks such as “Unconditional Love,” “Black Me Out,” and “True Trans Soul Rebel”. The blend between the classics and singles from Transgender Dysphoria Blues is seamless, and while all bands evolve over time, it seems that Against Me! enjoy playing the older songs as much as they ever did.
One of the greatest moments of the live performance comes in the middle of “New Wave”, the sixth track on the album. Partway through the song, a security guard attempts to kick out a young man who was dancing a little too enthusiastically. The band stops the performance and the crowd chants, “Let him stay!” Grace even shouts to the guard, “If he leaves, you have to get up here and play the guitar.” It’s unclear as to whether or not the fan was allowed to stay in the venue, but if nothing else, he got a really great shout out.
Another touching moment is when Grace, who publically came out as transgender in 2012, discusses the song “Pretty Girls (The Mover)”. She says that when the song was originally released in 2005, she wasn’t being “really direct” about what she was talking about, and that some of the lyrics have recently been rewritten to reflect her true meaning. The song revolves around the idea that the person Grace has a crush on might not accept her if she tells them about her true identity. Grace’s openness about her transition and struggles are always amazing, and having a new spin on the song brings the audience closer to the music.
There are still a few issues with 23 Live Sex Acts. The album isn’t mixed as well as it could’ve been. There are moments where the backing vocals overshadow the lead, and songs that start with a quiet guitar followed by vocals loud enough to blast ear drums (especially if the listener has turned up the volume to compensate for the guitar mix-no, I definitely haven’t done that three times already). However, sometimes a shoddy mix is part of a live show, and in an odd way that adds to the album’s integrity.
23 Live Sex Acts is full of high energy performances by all band members, and touching moments of support. Laura Jane Grace continues to be the goddess she is, and blows us all away with her astounding talent. Listening to this live performance almost brings the punk scene to your ear buds, mosh pit and sweaty black t-shirts not included.
Goes Well with a Side Of:
Bad Religion, The Smith Street Band, and a pint of Guinness