Once you get past the boring genre conventions, modern folk music and punk rock have a lot in common. At their best, they're both honest forms of protest music inspired by the specific (that whole country-going-down-the-shitter thing) as well as the general (making-sense-of-modern-life-in-a-world-on-the-brink-of-Armageddon). But the trick that endears an artist to an audience—the trick that practically got Dylan declared Pope in the '60s—is making the political personal and the personal political. Billy Bragg pulled it off in post-punk England in the '80s, and now Gainesville's Against Me! (exclamation point theirs) are doing the same for post-hardcore DIY America.
Like almost any folkie of note, Against Me! started as one guy with a guitar—then-17-year-old Tom Gabel's one-man band. Against Me! have since evolved into a full-fledged electric folk punk outfit very much in the spirit of Bragg's earliest lovelorn-lefty recordings. Where the general trend in the punk/indie world has been to erase any chance of mistake or warmth through big-budget production, Against Me! opt for cracking voices and thin, clean guitars. This passionate, zits-and-all approach has made the old (folk and punk) new again. While not afraid to specify his targets, Gabel more often speaks in generalities, whether discussing the grind of indie touring, the end of relationships, or the evils of multinationals. But his sincerity is contagious: like a grassroots movement unto itself, Against Me! have made the jump from shows in crammed, sweaty, asses-to-elbows basements to what basically constitutes the indie big-time—this month, giant punk label Fat Wreck Chords is releasing their follow-up to Reinventing Axl Rose, their acclaimed first album (which had songs such as "The Politics of Starving," "Scream It Until You're Coughing Up Blood" and "Baby, I'm an Anarchist!"), and the band is set to hit some larger clubs as part of a label package tour.
Despite the higher stages and more expensive recording studios (like the renowned Ardent in Memphis, once a home for the Replacements, Cramps and Big Star) from which to howl their punk ballad/folk anthems from, the band still maintains its voice-of-protest vibe. Reading the titles off the new As the Eternal Cowboy—"Cliché Guevara," "Mutiny On the Electronic Bay," "Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists"—easily confirms that. But they're not mere sloganeers; they're also great storytellers, as Gabel sweetly, sadly proved in a tobacco-ravaged voice cracking with earnestness on their last album: "Baby, I'm an anarchist/You're a spineless liberal/We marched together for the eight-hour day and held hands in the streets of Seattle/But when it came time to throw bricks through that Starbucks window/You left me all alone."
Against Me! perform with Anti-Flag, Rise Against, None More Black and the Vacancy at The House Of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583. Sun., 6 p.m. $15. All ages (Under 16 must be accompanied by adult).
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