On The Record: Why Against Me! Are The Only Punk Band That Matters
For the past week, a good friend of mine has basically been following Against Me! around the country, dragging his (incredibly patient) girlfriend with him to sweaty, fist-pumping gigs in Seattle and Billings, Montana — the latter of which took place at a brewery, on a stage flanked with kegs at 4 in the afternoon.
He described the Billings show to me thusly: "F---ing massive and scary. ... It was 103 degrees in there, with no air conditioning. And a lot more violent than the Seattle show, though dudes were hugging each other and kids were singing along to everything," which is awesome on about 100 different levels, primarily because it all took place here (though I suspect none of those pictured were doing the fighting or hugging).
Of course, for those who have been following AM! since their early days, shows like the one in Billings are nothing new. In fact, it was probably much tamer than a lot of their formative warehouse gigs (though they did keep it old skool by taking their shirts off mid-set). Then again, it's pretty safe to say that almost no one who's followed the band since its early days was at the Billings show ... and not just because it was in Montana.
See, Against Me! have some of the dumbest "fans" out there — the kind of crusty, DIY gutter punx who hold nothing to be more verboten than the concept of "selling out," which is something they've pretty much accused AM! of doing for almost a decade now. See, ever since frontman Tom Gabel decided to switch up his one-man punk-troubadour act by adding additional musicians to the mix, there have been detractors. And as the band leapt from indie to indie and tinkered with its sound, the catcalls only got louder, until — in late 2005, when AM! signed with Sire Records — they became a full-blown wail, one that manifested itself in blatantly stupid and juvenile acts like hate-filled message board screeds and vandalism (as detailed in the current feature on the band in Spin: "On their most recent tour, somebody sprayed 'AGAINTS [sic] D.I.Y.' on the band's van.").
Of course, the whole idea of "selling out" is pretty ridiculous in this day and age, when bands fill their videos with product placements, rock out on tours sponsored by multinational automotive companies and lend their songs to commercials for Chili's. And I'm pretty sure Gabel knows all that, is aware of just how dumb his DIY detractors must sound, and is determined to piss them all off to the Nth degree. After all, it's the only way to explain his band's new album, New Wave.
Not only is Wave a very major major-label debut — big producer (Butch Vig), big choruses, big hooks — it's also pretty much the best punk album released this year, so long as you define "punk" as "doing whatever the f--- you want."
It's a blazing 33-odd minutes packed full of protest songs about music videos and file-sharing ("Up the Cuts,") and protest songs about the ineffectiveness of protest songs ("White People for Peace"); open-hearted duets with slightly embarrassing titles (the truly excellent "Borne On the FM Waves of the Heart," featuring Tegan Quin of Tegan & Sara); and roiling numbers in which Gabel declares his desire to have been born a woman named Laura ("The Ocean"). It's bold and ballsy and really excellent, and for a punk record, it's surprisingly free of the genre's less-than-desirable aspects — the exclusion, the pissy attitude, the inherent sexism — so, if that's selling out, well, then I'm buying.
And sure, most of the band's fans will probably never listen to the album, based solely on the fact that, A) it's on Sire (after all, what does Seymour Stein know about punk?); and B) it's getting written up in places like Spin and MTVNews.com. But if you can't understand why that line of "reasoning" is beyond dumb, well, then you're probably one of the reasoners.
I'm not trying to say that maintaining a DIY ethos isn't admirable — it certainly is, especially in 2007 — but sticking to your guns and decrying Against Me! as sellouts to the very idea of punk (especially when "punk" now encompasses everything from Panic! at the Disco to Paramore) is beyond laughable. It's not like punk is dead or dying or whatever you wanna scream, it's just that — like pretty much everything these days — it's so beyond definable that I really fail to see why a band on a major is automatically disqualified from the club.
But if you wanna miss out on one of the year's most invigorating records based solely on a loosely applied set of principles, well, then that's your prerogative. It's just that Gabel is already one step ahead of you. Like he told me in May, roughly two months before New Wave hit stores:
"I guarantee that our new record will get the same reaction that all our records get with our existing fans. Some will be like, 'It's awesome,' and others will be like, 'I absolutely hate it.' But fast-forward a few years, and the ones who said they hated it are the ones who say they loved it all along and are asking us to play the songs at shows."
It's very much the talk of a guy who's been around the block a time or two, one who's been called a "sellout" more than he cares to recall. But this time is different, and he knows it. Rarely — if ever — has selling out sounded so good.
B-Sides: Other Stories I'm Following This Week
It's like the Gym Class Heroes are trying to kill me with irony. Or crap. (See "Gym Class Heroes Better Work On Their Mustaches — Group Prepping Hall & Oates Mash-Up Album.")
Korn announce plans for their own brand of biofuel. With this and the seemingly endless stream of manure they've been releasing as albums, they just might be the greenest band ever. (See "Korn Go Green: Band Concoct Own Biofuel, Korntastic; Converts To Biodiesel For Tour.")
Paul Rudd and I can both appreciate the beauty of guys like Reggie Willits and Yovani Gallardo. (See "Paul Rudd Dishes On Jessica Alba Kiss, Fantasy-Baseball Obsession, Fear Of Mustard.")
Questions? Concerns? Angry 'Punk's Not Dead' missives? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.