Tag Archives: punk rock

Against Me! – New Wave

Against Me - New Wave album cover10 years ago as I write this Floridian punk rockers Against Me! released an album that was, for better or worse, to become a landmark one in their career, New Wave.

Following something of a falling out with indie label Fat Wreck Chords over their Searching For A Former Clarity record the band signed a deal with a major label, Sire, for their fourth (and then fifth) albums.

This instantly set them apart not only from the anarcho-punk scene they originally came from (though to many there even Fat Wreck had been too big a move) but also from their fans who had followed the band’s first three albums to whom a major label was seen as a hugely controversial move.

The whys and wherefores of all of this (from at least one perspective) are covered in Laura Jane Grace’s autobiography, Tranny, so here I’m going to focus more on the record itself.

From the moment it begins its clear that New Wave has a bigger production side to it, and with Butch Vig behind the desk that’s not a surprise. What it does though right away is hint at the difference between the outlook of the band and the plans of the Sire executives.

Against Me! circa 2007

Against Me! circa 2007

While the band, led by chief songwriter Grace (then known as Thomas Gabel), kept at least a semblance of their sociopolitical outlook, they had added to that an embittered streak focussing on the aforementioned punk ideals, the notion of ‘selling out’ and the criticisms they had gained from longstanding fans, there’s a strong sense that what Sire were looking for was the next generation of Foo Fighters.

While this gives the whole record something of a conflicted edge the dangerous side of the music gets lost in the deeper production, stifling what could have been a very impressive set of songs highlighting the ever-present clash between art and commerce. Title track New Wave, Up The Cuts and the supremely catchy Stop! particularly vocalise this, but it is a theme bubbling under throughout.

Politics remains a strong aspect of the lyrics, possibly in a slightly more abstract sense than in the past, but White People For Peace and Americans Abroad both have political overtones with the first dealing with war and protest singers and the second feeling like a very aware look at global Americanisation from the point of view of the band on tour.

Against Me! live 2007

Against Me! live in 2007

What all this suggests is that there are some good songs on the record and, in many ways it does continue where Searching… had left off two years previously, with the band developing a slightly poppier and more accessible tone while still having plenty to say, it’s just this came across far better with a slightly less ‘over produced’ sound.

That said a couple of tracks really stand out. The first is Thrash Unreal, the album’s second single, that takes the kind of topics often dealt with in teen pop punk but throws them askance issuing something of a warning of increasingly youthful excess but finally standing up as a celebration of teenage rebellion (with a very dark edge).

The other stand out track is the albums closer, The Ocean, that uses the advanced production for all its worth to create a deep and atmospheric piece that delves deeper than ever before into the Grace’s psyche and feelings in a way that has since become something of a premonition for not just the future of the band but her personal life as well (loosely anyway).

Thomas Gabel/Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! in 2007

Gabel/Grace live in 2007

This all leaves New Wave as something of a transitional record in Against Me!’s career, lacking some of the danger of the past and hinting at a possible more ‘corporate rock’ future that never really emerged (thankfully).

The follow-up, White Crosses, while also featuring some great songs also felt somewhat disconnected and eventually almost led to the collapse of the band before their next landmark moment on Transgender Dysphoria Blues that saw them take many aspects of what they were before but become something new and certainly become about as far removed from being the next Foo Fighters as a band could get while still playing pop-tinged punk rock.

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British Summer Time with Green Day – Hyde Park – 01/07/17

Green Day at BST Hyde Park

Green Day at BST Hyde Park

The last time I went to a huge outdoor event it was Reading Festival when Arcade Fire played a blinder, Blink 182 were sadly mediocre and Guns ’N’ Roses did their best to ruin their legacy forever, so heading to British Summer Time in Hyde Park it felt like going to an entirely new kind of show for me, a pronounced lover of smaller, more intimate gigs rather than huge concerts.

The line up though certainly had a lot that appealed to from vintage punk rock to a couple of my favourite bands and some interesting diversions besides so all was looking well as Stiff Little Fingers took to the enormous Great Oak Stage.

Despite being somewhat dwarfed by their surroundings and only having 30 minutes to play with the veteran Northern Ireland four-piece blasted through a set of powerful and positive, surprisingly poppy, classic punk rock.

Stiff Little Fingers at BST Hyde Park

Stiff Little Fingers

Having a self-admitted reputation as a dour, political band they more than dispelled this as, while songs like Tin Soldiers, Suspect Device and set closing classic (and highlight) Alternative Ulster have an obvious point to make they do it in the most upbeat way possible.

While being on first meant the crowd weren’t totally in dancing mood the band played a great set that was just the opposite of Buzzcocks when I saw them a couple of years ago which is where I had been worried this might head and Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae was a surprise skank along belter.

The vintage punk continued with The Damned but they upped the ante in terms of putting on a show, once Captain Sensible had done his own soundcheck and had a bit of friendly ‘banter’ with the crowd – I’m assuming shouting ‘Fuck off Sensible’ and getting the V’s in return is a thing… if not it all seemed good-natured fun anyway.

The Damned at BST Hyde Park

The Damned

As most of the bands did The Damned delivered a greatest hits set par excellence, pulling in all the big songs you could want spanning their 70s and 80s heyday from the likes of Neat Neat Neat, to Love Song, to Eloise to Video Nasty.

While the Captain had something of the fool character on stage (not to discredit his spot on guitar playing), Dave Vanian was a perfect counterpoint stalking the stage looking like a cross between Bela Lugosi and Lux Interior with a deep American twang to a vintage rock ’n’ roll voice over the goth tinged punk.

This juxtaposition between Vanian and Sensible was something I’d had trouble getting my head around on record but seeing them live it all came into place leading to another set that defied the age of the performers and made possibly my highlight of the day.

The Hives at BST Hyde Park

The Hives

With some very nice looking vintage amplifiers being rolled onto the stage it was time for The Hives to bring the rock ’n’ roll and they did with their usual tight, precise, high energy aplomb.

Of course the focus of the performance was Howlin’ Pele Almvqvist who, for the forty minutes they had, never stood still for a second ranging from side to side of the huge stage and as far down the dividing barricade into the crowd as his mic lead would allow, delivering every rock ’n’ roll frontman pose you can think of.

While his performance could come across as too mannered and arrogant in some hands, Almvqvist packs it with enough good nature and fun to make sure that never happens and the frequent quips about them being a European band winking at Brexit just added to this.

The rest of the band were as tight as you could want with Nicholaus Arson (Almqvist’s brother) taking his share of centre stage and showing that the infectious energy obviously runs in the family.

While the set was packed with their well-known songs like Die, All Right!, Walk Idiot Walk and Main Offender, taking ten minutes at its conclusion to deliver the usually two and bit minute Tick Tick Boom did feel a little much, but it was still enjoyable and the trick of introducing the crowd as well as the band was a nice twist on a usual conceit.

The Living End at BST Hyde Park

The Living End

Even though Gogol Bordello looked and sounded like they played a stormer I found it hard to properly listen to their set as I made my way over to the smaller Barclaycard Stage at the far end of the park to catch Australia punkabillys, The Living End.

As with all the other bands with short sets they blasted through a greatest hits style set in a way that had the feel of huge fun party.

With many in the crowd clearly being die-hard fans and singing every word of the likes of Roll On, Prisoner of Society and West End Riot back at Chris, Scott and Andy it had a feel of a smaller club gig in the environs of this huge outdoor arena and that made it something of a special set and, while only six songs long, was up there with The Damned for most memorable moments of the day.

With a little more time to play with than the other bands Rancid’s set had the feel of more of a proper show and they didn’t waste any time in delivering crowd pleasers aplenty.

Rancid at BST Hyde Park

Rancid

While it was clear that most of the crowd were here for the headliners these fellow Bay Area punks took the chance to make their mark and win over many new fans as they played material ranging from the hardcore Dead Bodies (from their eponymous 2000 album) to ska heavy Where I’m Going (from new album Trouble Maker) and of course the hits like Time Bomb, Fall Back Down and set closer Ruby Soho.

Through all of this Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen remain the perfect complementing front duo (a little like Sensible/Vanian earlier but in a totally different way) and with seemingly every song dedicated to someone it brought to fore the community aspect that makes punk rock like this the special thing that is and they even got a couple of pits going despite the generally family demographic in the audience.

While Green Day’s crew were changing the stage around for the stadium rock show to come I headed off to the march stand and, on the tiny stage hidden away behind the main stage, caught a few songs from Beach Slang. While I didn’t hear much, their powerful and exuberant indie-punk certainly impressed me and I’ll be investigating them further.

Green Day at BST Hyde Park

Green Day

With the stage reset with a new walkway out into the crowd and extra lights and drum riser in place Green Day blasted into their two and three-quarter hour epic set with Know Your Enemy.

This was followed by an opening section drawing on new album Revolution Radio and American Idiot much to the delight of the younger end of their fan base (and its safe to say the new songs sounded great live with more energy than on the record).

From there things switched back to their more classic 1990s material ranging from 2000 Light Years Away from 1991 to a rousing rendition of 2000’s Minority.

The third section went into a mix of big songs from the mid-90s and American Idiot before the traditional duo of King For A Day and Shout that contained an extended breakdown section featuring a genuinely uplifting moment of Billy Joe Armstrong stating: “No racism, no sexism, no homophobia and no Donald Trump!”.

Green Day at BST Hyde Park

Green Day and friends playing Knowledge

While its fair to say Green Day are a band who have evolved from the kind of pop punk band they were into stadium rock giants I found, they have kept something of a sense of self echoing, in a way, the community sense demonstrated rather differently by Rancid.

While I’ll admit Armstrong’s reliance on getting the crowd to sing ‘Hey-yo’ back to him was a little tiresome as the set went on, involving the audience on stage was a great touch.

On three songs audience members were invited up to perform with the band and this really helped take what could have been a distancing ‘performance’ and make it something more (though I had to feel sorry for the first young lady taken on stage to play guitar on Operation Ivy’s Knowledge as she had something of a rabbit in the headlights look once she realised what was happening and seemed to forget what a guitar was, let alone how to play it).

On top of this Armstrong’s message moments, ranging from a suitable amount of Trump bashing (most obviously a “Fuck you Donald Trump” during American Idiot) to talks of positivity, equality and inclusion really felt like something important to say, especially for the younger members of the audience, and never felt heavy-handed, even if I prefer Rancid’s more subtle method of doing this through their song-stories.

Green Day by Jordan Curtis Hughes

Green Day by Jordan Curtis Hughes

Closing the set on Revolution Radio’s Forever Now the crowd were clearly wanting more and a few songs remained notably absent so we got an encore of American Idiot and an epic rendition of Jesus of Suburbia that had the crowd singing along in great voice, before a second encore from Bille Joe and his acoustic guitar of three tracks culminating in Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).

This left the audience satisfied and heading out onto the streets of London following what was, for me, one of the best fully complete rock shows I’ve ever seen with everything from huge singalongs to flaming pyro to a genuine sense of togetherness that really blew me away in a manner I was totally unprepared for.

All photos by me unless otherwise noted (final photo of Green Day from the BST Hyde Park Facebook page) – you can see all my photos by clicking here

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Rancid – Trouble Maker

Rancid - Trouble Maker album coverThe better part of three decades into their career it’s fair to say Rancid have slipped into the territory of being, at least to a degree, elder statesmen of the Californian punk scene and the wider global punk scene with it, possibly even more so than relative contemporaries like Green Day (another band to release a new album in the last 12 months) due to their previous lives in other bands and generally maintained credibility throughout.

Now, with Trouble Maker, their ninth studio album, they continue a trend that began after 2003’s Indestructible of creating something enjoyable and generally satisfying but hard to remove from something of a ‘by the numbers’ feel.

Within that though there’s still a lot to like, kicking off in their usual upbeat mode with a short, punchy number, Track Fast, before lead singles Ghost of a Chance and the acoustic tinged Telegraph Avenue, that bears strong hallmarks of Tim ‘Timebomb’ Armstrong’s solo side project.

From there it twists and turns through the usual sounds we’ve come to expect from the dancefloor filling ska of Where I’m Going to the more hardcore influence of All American Neighborhood to the positive pogoing material of Goodbye Lola Blue along with (sort of) title track An Intimate Close Up Of A Street Punk Troublemaker‘s shout along chorus.

Rancid 2017

Rancid (Steineckert, Armstong, Frederiksen and Freeman)

As ever Armstrong’s slurred and intentionally lose delivery is counterpointed by Lars Frekeriksen’s precise and barked vocal and guitar parts while Matt Freeman’s bass playing brings the rock ‘n’ roll and relative newcomer (this is his third album with the band), drummer, Branden Steineckert keeps the punk rock power pounding throughout.

As with Honour Is All We Know as the album goes on there are points where the tracks begin to run together somewhat, but it has to be said that where this happens Rancid’s sound is enough to carry them through, particularly for a fan.

While its far from musically revolutionary what Rancid continue to do with Trouble Maker is something that I think is a strong part of their longevity as, while they don’t sing directly about politics or protest, their portraits of characters and life in and around their original base in the East Bay reflects something larger and more universal in many ways, while also generally being supremely engaging, charismatic and entertaining.

Tim Armstrong - Rancid 2017

Armstrong/Timebomb live circa 2017

With all this in mind there is something of a sense that Rancid may have become a little like the punk rock AC/DC or Motörhead, releasing albums that, while maybe not surprising or ‘classic’ in the way …And Out Come The Wolves was, are involving and enjoyable in just the right ways and remain packed with songs made for the live environment with the potential for singalongs, skanking and pogoing galore.

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Milk Teeth – Vile Child

Milk Teeth - Vile Child coverLast December I caught Stroud based four-piece Milk Teeth supporting Against Me! as part of their UK tour and was suitably impressed by the young band’s punk rock sound and attitude and their debut album, Vile Child, released earlier in 2016, certainly impresses as well.

Kicking off as it means to continue with the blunt and sudden Brickwork, Milk Teeth set out their stall early with grunge sounds mixing with more current punk rock to create something, that if I didn’t know better, would sound totally American and also entirely current and powerful.

The first half of the record continues this with key touchstones clearly coming out of Seattle, and Nirvana in particular, though bassist Becky Blomfield and (now former) guitarist Josh Bannister’s vocals, that range from the subtle and melodic to the raging, give Milk Teeth their own strong identity.

Milk Teeth 2016

Milk Teeth (early 2016)

A stand out track of the album marks something of a shift in the sound of things. Swear Jar (Again) is unique on the record with a slower tone and was also a standout of their live set last December.

From there the grunge style is developed with something akin to the likes of Reuben and Therapy? being added to the mix giving it a more post-hardcore flavour including some genuinely raging moments that serve to give the album a great sense of dynamic.

While in the hands of some these shifting sounds could make it sound disjointed this all holds together nicely and, while it does in a way, sound like simply a bunch of songs stuck on a disc (there is no immediately evident theme), it does still have a feeling of being a complete piece of work.

Milk Teeth

Milk Teeth (live late 2016)

This leads to it being one of the stronger debut albums I’ve heard from a band in some time, with a lot of promise of great things to come from this band who more recently seem to have become a favourite of Kerrang! magazine (for what that’s worth in this day and age).

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Sound Guernsey: Burning at Both Ends, Jawbone, WaterColour Matchbox and Track Not Found – The Fermain Tavern – 21/04/17

You can see a gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

Jawbone

Jawbone

As Sound Guernsey have now announced their involvement with both the Chaos and Vale Earth Fair festivals this summer, it might just be me, but their April show at The Fermain Tavern seemed to have a further increase in its positive atmosphere amongst the assembled youngsters.

The first band to form out of the Sound events, Track Not Found, opened the show and once again showed some development following recent appearances in front of new audiences at both a The Vault and the recent metal night at the The Tav.

With more fuzz in the sound here and a more deliberate pace their grungy blues had something of an added stoner quality to it.

Track Not Found

Track Not Found

While the band have become nice and tight they still lack something in stage presence between the songs, but this is a minor criticism and something likely to develop with time and guitarist/vocalist Grace Tayler in particular has a great look evoking something of the riotgrrl feel of the 1990s but with her own twist.

Highlights in their set came with Ecstasy and new song Code Red both of which demonstrated not just their sound but their way of writing songs exactly as they want them in their own way, which is refreshing to hear in a young band.

Following a successful couple of first gigs over the last few months WaterColour Matchbox brought their brand of nu-grunge flavoured prog metal to Sound.

While it seemed to lack some of the metallic bite of their outing at the recent metal night, the four-piece were still as tight as they come and did crank up the heaviness a few times as the set went on.

WaterColour Matchbox

WaterColour Matchbox

With heads banging to some of the heaviest sounds the Sound crowd had been treated to, the band debuted a new song indicating we can expect more of the same to come.

After the precision controlled delivery of WaterColour Matchbox things couldn’t have been much more different as Jawbone took to the stage with their usual chaotic brand of punk rock.

While the classic covers that have been their hallmark up to now were all present, correct and hugely enjoyable, it was the raft of new originals that brought the highlights. Combining something of the abrasive Californian skate punk of the likes of NoFX and mixing it with the intensity of the classic British style led to a sound at once politically charged and vaguely nihilistic with a typically direct lyrical streak.

Steve of Jawbone

Steve of Jawbone

In the midst of the chaos that saw guitarist Lee Burton don a wedding dress (for reasons best known to himself) and bass player Dan Keltie head of stage with bass and mic for a run at The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat, frontman Steve Scratton demonstrated a newly confident side to his performance properly interacting with the crowd during the songs in a way rarely seen over here.

All this made for a set that was my highlight of the night and, suitably enough, included their take on The Misfits’ Astro Zombies on Jerry Only’s birthday.

The punk rock vibe continued, in slightly different form, with the powerful pop punk of Burning At Both Ends.

Over the last year ‘BABE’ have become one of the favourite bands for the Sound audience and, while going on a bit late mean the crowd had shrunk somewhat, they still got the audience onto the dancefloor from the start.

Another band debuting some new songs, BABE showed they are continuing with more of the same as their first album, in this case no bad thing, and the crowd ate it up.

Burning At Both Ends

Burning At Both Ends

For me they lacked the raw energy of Jawbone that I love, but it’s hard to escape the infectious quality of Burning At Both Ends and with a streak of heaviness alongside some great singalong moments they closed the show on a high, maintaining their spot as Sound favourites.

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Blink-182 – California

Blink-182 - California album coverIn summer 2016 two of the biggest bands in the world of pop punk released records that had something of a comeback feel to them. I’ve already taken a look at Green Day’s effort, Revolution Radio, so now I’ve had a listen to Blink-182’s California.

Originally forming in the wake of the pop-punk explosion caused by the likes of Green Day back in 1995, Blink-182 became arguably the biggest band of the following wave of American pop-punk with their 1999 album Enema of the State and 2001’s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.

Since then something of a direction on their self-titled 2003 album was followed by a lengthy hiatus and then a change of personnel before California with Alkaline Trio leader Matt Skiba joining in place of founding guitarist and vocalist Tom DeLonge.

So to California. As the name suggests this is a partial concept record about the band’s home state, particularly the southern part of it – Blink originally formed in and around San Diego – and it is the three tracks that most obviously provide this theme that are three of the highlights. Los Angeles, San Diego and the title track all present different aspects of the band at their most mature and inventive sounding.

Blink-182 circa 2016

Blink-182 – Hoppus, Barker and Skiba

This is balanced with the kind of songs that made the bands reputation with pop hooks, singalongs and catchy choruses aplenty, that had me singing along after only a couple of listens. Particularly in this group are She’s Out Of Her Mind and Kings of the Weekend.

On top of this Built This Pool and Brohemian Rhapsody show the band still have their juvenile streak with these two 30 second skit-songs very reminiscent of several from their back catalogue.

What sets California apart from Blink’s past efforts is, I think, something that Skiba brings to the table. Alkaline Trio are known for adding gothic elements to their pop-punk and dealing with darker themes and that sneaks through here. Sober is a song that while upbeat and still has the Blink thing going on suggests something deeper as do the Californian tryptic.

Admittedly Blink have headed in these directions in the past as well with the likes of Stay Together For The Kids and Adam’s Song but Skiba’s presence adds an extra level to it as well as making for a more digestible sound than DeLonge ever managed.

Blink-182 playing live

The band playing live

With a lot of variety for a pop-punk record California still falls together like a complete package of an album including some moments of the more modern style of pop-punk with heavier guitar tones along with the upbeat feel.

It’s not just Skiba who’s on top form either, but founder member Mark Hoppus (bass and vocals) and long time drummer Travis Barker are both clearly at the top of their game as well, and as ever the drums are a big part of what elevates Blink-182 above the rest of the pop-punk pack and California certainly shows this longstanding band can still be a cut above the rest.

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A Stray Cat Struts: My Life as a Rockabilly Rebel by Slim Jim Phantom

A Stray Cat Struts by Slim Jim PhantomWhen I look at musical biographies I’ve read in the past, from Laura Jane Grace to Tony Iommi to Ginger Wildheart to Frank Turner amongst others, it’s fairly obvious that most have focussed on frontmen or band leaders.

This seems to be a fairly standard trend so, coming to the autobiography of Slim Jim Phantom, most famously the drummer from The Stray Cats, I expected something a bit different, and that’s just what I got.

From the start Phantom makes it clear that his book won’t be a mudslinging ‘needless to say I got the last laugh’ type affair but a look at the positives that his life as a rockabilly musician of note has brought him.

That isn’t to say that it’s all saccharine sweet though as he and his various band members go through their share of problems but, for the most part, Slim Jim finds the good in all the situations, one way or another.

With this approach he makes it clear early on that he won’t engage with the potential fallout of the split of The Stray Cats, so when that comes it’s not a surprise (though later he sheds a little light on the relationships between himself and fellow Cats, Brian Setzer and Lee Rocker).

The Stray Cats

The Stray Cats

Up to the split of that band the book moves in, largely, chronological order tracing Phantom’s life from Massapequa, Long Island, New York to London where the Cats first found fame, through meetings and tours with The Rolling Stones and the kind of encounters and happenings that are genuinely amazing to hear given the speed with which they occur following the trio’s arrival in the UK.

In this we begin to meet some of Slim Jim’s ‘true pals’ who become a major feature of many of the stories and many are household names from the world of rock ‘n’ roll. While this could easily feel like name dropping par excellence, it actually comes across as if our humble narrator is as surprised by many of these encounters and friendships as we might be, including his marriage in the mid-1980s to Britt Ekland!

As the book goes on the stories focus more on specific subjects so there are chapters on Lemmy, ‘The Killer’ Jerry Lee Lewis, George Harrison and other rock ‘n’ roll heroes as well as Phantom’s endeavours in film acting, nightclub ownership and life on and around the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

HeadCat and Jerry Lee Lewis

HeadCat and Jerry Lee Lewis

Through all of these what makes the book so engaging is the manner in which Phantom writes. It’s as if he is telling you these stories one-to-one, and his enthusiasm for his music and extraordinary comes through strongly in every passage regardless of what he’s recounting.

As the book goes on he becomes more reflective as his hard partying days subside to watching game shows while on the phone with Harry Dean Stanton, spending time with his, evidently equally rock ‘n’ roll, son TJ and later charity mountaineering trips to Kilimanjaro and Everest.

Rockabilly music is never far away though and it’s clear this remains what makes his heart beat and its worth having YouTube handy to look up some of the Stray Cats performances he mentions just to revel in the same things he is.

Slim Jim Phantom up Kilimanjaro

Slim Jim Phantom up Kilimanjaro

What I think this accessibility and enthusiasm stems from is something he highlights and I’ve noticed in my own life that, in a majority of cases, drummers are the members of the band most happy to let down the facade of rock ‘n’ roll life, connect with others and generally are more open and sharing.

Using this Slim Jim lets us into his world in a far less self-conscious way than many other musicians making for a fascinating and easy read that may have a few rough edges tidied but feels honest and true in the way that the best things in rock ‘n’ roll should be.

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Green Day – Revolution Radio

Green Day - Revolution Radio album coverBack in 2004 Bay Area punk trio Green Day reached something of a milestone moment in their career with the release of their George W. Bush baiting concept opus American Idiot.

While that launched them into being one of the most commercially successful punk rock bands of all time (despite causing something a rift amongst long time fans) with arena tours and festival headline slots aplenty, they have since struggled to live up to the impassioned, firebrand strength on record.

Follow up album, 21st Century Breakdown, tried to relive the glory of its forerunner while a trio of albums in 2012 (Uno, Dos and Tre) seemed to slip out somewhat under the radar with less of the hype, but still sold well.

Following that Revolution Radio then looks and sounds like another attempt at returning to the American Idiot idealism, but, despite being written and recorded during the rise of now-President Trump, it doesn’t seem to have such a targeted focus.

While Bang, Bang and the title track are serviceable numbers with some good upbeat sounds the first half of the album feels somewhat too clean and over overproduced, demonstrating their arena rock credentials but losing much of the band’s spirit.

Green Day

Green Day

From the sixth track, Bouncing Off The Wall, onwards though this seems to change with a far more straight forward punk rock feel to things – faster, harder and more based around the core trio.

While it’s still not the focussed assault it sounds as if it should be there’s a lot to like and here Green Day sound like a band refreshed before closer Ordinary World takes it back to the start a little too much.

As a whole Revolution Radio is a mixed bag but shows there’s still life in Green Day yet, even if they are now very firmly more an arena rock outfit than the young punks who came out of 924 Gilman Street in the early 1990s and I can but hope they return more emphatically to their more political leanings now there is something worth shouting about again.

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Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace with Dan Ozzi

Tranny Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace and Dan Ozzi book coverIn May 2012 Laura Jane Grace came out to the world as transgender via an interview in Rolling Stone magazine. At that point her band, Against Me!, had been going through a lot of transition themselves and this marked something of a watershed moment, not just for Grace herself, but for the band.

In her autobiography, Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout (written with Dan Ozzi) Grace explores her life and career up to this point in startling honest fashion.

The book starts in 1985 with Grace (then known as Thomas James Gabel) seeing Madonna on TV and the wheels are set in motion for her life both in terms of her personal development and her musical ambitions – of course stylistically, the music at least would go in somewhat of a different direction.

I won’t go into detail of her story, this would be the autobiographical equivalent of spoilers, but it follows a natural chronology starting with her life as child of a military family regularly moving from place to place and never forming solid foundations, something that comes into play as she moves into being a touring musician.

Laura Jane Grace

Laura Jane Grace

As the title of the book suggests the story has two main threads that Grace weaves together seamlessly. Each chapter loosely follows a section of her career based around an album or tour, especially once we get to the point to the point of Against Me! releasing their debut album, …Reinventing Axl Rose.

This is a fairly standard conceit and obviously makes logical sense for a musicians memoir, but, what lifts it beyond that is the combination of newly written passages and sections lifted from Grace’s extensive journals.

What this does is extraordinary as we get the view of Grace now, with not only hindsight but an almost entirely changed life, and the in the moment thoughts and views of Gabel at the time.

While the view taken rarely changes it gives the book a duality that only serves to hammer home the experiences of Grace’s dysphoria that, it is evident, were present from her early youth (certainly at least since seeing that Madonna performance).

Against Me! circa 2013

Against Me! circa 2013

These journals are fascinating as its clear Grace documented everything, really putting the reader in the moment with her at many key moments both for herself and Against Me!.

This makes for a very intense and personal experience, like we are a fly on the wall, or even closer than that. With that we share many nights with her on the bench seats of vans or bunks of tour busses, as well as the back of a police car or two, in a way I’ve never read in any other musician’s life story.

As a fan of Grace’s music I did wonder if her personal story would take preference but I’m happy to say that it doesn’t as it is clear throughout just how inextricably linked these two things are, more than comes across in many other such stories. That said the most fascinating stuff comes with her personal story and quite how she came to terms with her gender dysphoria and how she dealt with it (or didn’t) at different stages of her life.

Grace as Gabel

Grace as Gabel

It never paints transitioning or anything associated with it as a quick fix or an easy process as some flippant reporting of such has, both in relation to her and others. In this it does a great job of expressing the feelings she felt and what she went through that, as a cis-male, was one of the most valuable insights I’ve had into this.

The story of the band is one we’ve heard many times before with members falling out, life on the road extremes and just what its like to support metallers Mastodon on tour when you’re in a band playing punk rock.

But with this we get a look into the American punk scene from the late 1990s to the late 2000s. While this view is obviously that of Grace herself, it is fascinating to see the DIY end of things and how it relates (or doesn’t) to the mainstream world of pop-punk and what comes between.

This just adds fuel to Grace’s resilient fire as she faces off against former fans who now brand her and the band sellouts and how some came back round as this part of her story neared its end.

The final chapter and epilogue of the book change things up as Gabel’s journals are no more and we get pure Grace, rounding off her story in suitably open-ended but still satisfying fashion (for now) as we find out about the writing and recording of the Transgender Dysphoria Blues album and the reconstruction of Against Me! as, arguably, even more of a potent force than they ever were before and certainly a more focussed one.

Laura Jane Grace (and Atom Willard) of Against Me!

Laura Jane Grace (and Atom Willard)

All this makes Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout not just one of the most satisfying autobiographies but one of the most satisfying books I’ve read.

Like much of Grace’s music its fast, raw and honest while provoking thought and opening up a wider world of experience than most other does not and, given the subjects it deals with, it offers an invaluable and important insight into something not everyone will experience but everyone should be able to at least try to understand all in a very personal way.

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Against Me!, Milk Teeth and Mobina Galore – Electric Ballroom, Camden – 08/12/16

Against Me!

Against Me!

Heading into Camden’s famed Electric Ballroom venue on a surprisingly mild December evening it was clear that the night’s headliners, Floridian punk rockers Against Me!, had brought a sense of occasion with them.

Snaking down Camden High Street from the venue’s doors, waiting for them to open, was one of the most diverse crowds I’ve seen for a show all clearly attracted by the message of inclusivity the band have been championing for, at least, their last two albums but in less specific ways their whole career.

This idea of inclusivity was reflected in the supporting line up. It sounds like something that shouldn’t need commenting on but, as this was, I think, the first time it’s happened at a gig I’ve attended, all three bands were at least female fronted but in each case this was far from their defining factor.

Winnipeg duo Mobina Galore kicked off proceedings with a wall of grunge punk noise that combined the fuzz sound of Nirvana-era Seattle with the heavier end of The Offspring’s brand of pop-punk.

Mobina Galore

Mobina Galore

Jenna and Marcia were instantly captivating thanks to the sheer power of their sound, the fact there were two and not at least four people on stage was never sonically noticeable, bringing to mind the likes of The Hyena Kill and Science of Eight Limbs in different ways

This, combined with the way they worked together and obviously fed off one another’s energy, created something that got the already big and still growing audience nicely warmed up.

Had the set gone on any longer I worried their sound may have become a bit repetitive but for a raging half hour Mobina Galore were powerful and absorbing from start to finish.

It was obvious from their reception that Stroud based quartet, Milk Teeth, brought quite a following with them and as they launched in Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation before segueing into their own material that quickly gained more.

The band’s sound was rooted in pop punk but they weren’t scared to venture into heavier territory and it was when they merged the two that they hit their best moments.

Milk Teeth

Milk Teeth

Becky Blomfield was a constant focus with powerful vocals along with a great line in high kicks and bass playing while Billy Hutton, celebrating a year on guitar with the band, acted as a great counterpoint.

Highlights of the set came with Swear Jar and a very nice slower number from Blomfield that was the first moment of the audience consciously coming together in support of a band’s explicit lyrical sentiments – though plenty more such moments were still to come.

With a nice little speech from Hutton continuing this, Milk Teeth delivered a brilliantly uncynical performance that, judging by the audience response at the end of the set, saw them win over many new fans to their diverse punk rock sound.

As a banner revealing a pair of black and white, Rocky Horror-eque, lips was revealed and Against Me! hit the stage the now packed crowd in the sold out Electric Ballroom pushed forward and the level of excitement surpassed possibly any show I’ve ever attended.

Against Me!

Against Me!

Launching into True Trans Soul Rebel before a surprisingly powerful 333 and then Haunting, Haunted, Haunts the band matched this excellently and proceeded to ride a wave of energy with the audience for the next 90 minutes spanning their entire career, balancing older material with a focus on songs from new album Shape Shift With Me.

Despite the fact some of the subjects dealt with in Laura Jane Grace’s lyrics can be on the dark side their delivery camet with a positive attitude and a huge, infectious smile, throughout, with Dead Friends, White Crosses and Delicate, Petite and Things I’ll Never Be highlights of the first part of the set in this regard as the audience sang virtually every word back at the band, at times almost out doing the PA.

While the first half of the set would have made this a stand out show in anyone’s book something changed to elevate it even further when, in the introduction to Bamboo Bones, Grace made a comment that, while she is an atheist she got the impression that the energy she feels performing is the equivalent to that the evangelical claim to feel in church.

Laura Jane Grace (and Atom Willard) of Against Me!

Laura Jane Grace (and Atom Willard)

This seemed to strike a particular chord with the audience, myself more than included, as we shouted back the words ‘What god doesn’t give to you, you have to go and take for yourself’ with an astonishing conviction and invoking a sense of a ‘punk rock revival meeting spiritual’ which continued for the rest of the night.

From there through Boyfriend, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, I Was A Teenage Anarchist and an almost overwhelming Black Me Out, Against Me! took this further elevated energy and converted it into something truly life affirming and poignant on both a personal and social level.

Throughout the set all four members of the band were astonishing. Grace and guitarist James Bowman (the other long-standing member) clearly have a telepathic connection on stage. Inge Johansson (who joined in 2013) looked like Johnny Ramone picked up a bass and got a whole hell of a lot happier while being an energetic powerhouse and clearly having a powerful connection with Grace while Atom Willard (also in the band since 2013) was mesmerising behind the drums, truly thundering and powering the band’s folk-tinged punk rock.

Inge Johansson of Against Me!

Inge Johansson

As the audience called for more Grace headed back onto stage alone and, as well as a customary thanks to the crowd, made the point that playing in the UK means she can be pretty sure she’s not playing for anyone who voted for Trump, before delivering a particularly poignant solo version of Baby I’m An Anarchist from the band’s debut, again with full crowd vocal backing.

With the rest of the band back FuckMyLife666 and a particularly rousing Sink, Florida, Sink closed the show with the audience a sweaty, moshed up mess but still calling for more even as the house lights came up and the backing music returned.

Only beginning to disperse once Grace returned to the stage to distribute some guitar picks brought to a close one of the best night’s I’ve spent in a music venue anywhere (this may be up with the Rancid gig at Brixton in 2006 I have bored my friends about) and re-confirming a sense of punk rock (and live music in general) as not just a genre but a feeling, a lifestyle and a place that is genuinely accepting and life-affirmingly positive in an entirely uncynical way.

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