Given how much Laura Jane Grace has done for the trans* community since coming out in 2012 and beginning her very public transition, it’s not surprise for Against Me! to headline a show immediately following Toronto’s annual Trans* Pride March at Yonge-Dundas Square. This showcase of trans* artists began with The Cliks, a pop rock band from Toronto fronted by trans* male Lucas Silveira. Their catchy alternative sound got the crowd amped up quickly, with Silveira’s contagious pride and excitement to be part of such an event in his own hometown spreading through the audience.
One of the best things about live music is the community of fans that surrounds it, the respect and camaraderie for your fellow appreciator. The depth of that feeling skyrocketed with this crowd, half-filled with new fans celebrating the pride of a long-hidden identity, half decade-old Against Me! obsessors with a renewed love and respect for the band, all joined together in a celebration of music.
It seemed to be a general consensus among the older fans that we were a bit scared of only hearing new material. Not for a dislike of those songs, but for a history with all the others. Thankfully, this was not the case. Half of what they played was from Transgender Dysphoria Blues, but the other half went back to old days, with tunes from albums like Reinventing Axl Rose and Searching for a Former Clarity.
The power that Grace had while playing “Black Me Out” is undeniable. Even standing front and centre of the excited crowd, little to no room to turn around to actually see, you could hear every knowing voice crying out the lyrics along with the song. And every other song on the setlist, for that matter. There was no shortage of crowd participation throughout their set, and a great deal of jumping to the music for old favourites, like “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” and “Cliché Guevara”. The pit may have been small, but it was lovely enough to rip straps off backpacks.
Grace spent all of her time not singing lead by running around on stage with her guitar, engaging both her bandmates and the audience. Her singing style on all their pre-2013 songs differed from the recorded versions, in a way that harmonized wonderfully with the crowd, joyfully shouting the words back to the band. James Bowman (guitar) and Inge Johansson (bass, ex-The (International) Noise Conspiracy, Refused) didn’t move around much, but they owned their positions by rocking out on their instruments. Atom Willard (drums, ex-The Offspring, Angels & Airwaves), like most punk drummers, lost his mind in a talented fluid fury of arm flails and kicks, hammering out the band’s quick pace. There were a few issues with being able to hear the backing vocals, guitar, and bass, but all were fixed quickly. These things are rather difficult to avoid in outdoor settings, but whoever was operating the board did well with speedy recoveries.
The crowd’s chanting demand for an encore was met by the hosts informing there was under three minutes remaining for curfew at the Square – not enough time for anything. All the ecstatic, sweaty fans of Against Me! slowly left the area in natural-high screams of “I can’t believe I finally saw them live!” Anyone disappointed by them cancelling their dates with Bad Religion last spring left happy, with a year-later consolation prize – free of charge!