You don't need a punk rock band with a transgender singer to lure out the freaks and misfits on a wet Wednesday night in Camden. They're there already. But you do need a figure like Laura Jane Grace and a band like Against Me! to rally up and unite them.
A sense of belonging is tangible in the air of the Electric Ballroom tonight, and the task of bringing the community together in anticipation of the band everyone has come to see has fallen on the shoulders of Billy The Kid. When it’s just you and a guitar in a room of this size, you better have the songs to capture and keep hold of the rabble’s attention. Thankfully this kid has a backpack full of them, as well as affecting lyrics, a truly mesmerising voice, and the one thing that you can’t teach but that’s utterly essential to being a successful solo singer-songwriter: likeability.
With her acoustic songs of heartache, loving and living she charms the pants off the place and proves that punk rock is not a style of music but a style of life. It’s an attitude that exists in your heart. If it’s real and it’s honest, it’s punk, and Billy The Kid is all of the above. By the time she brings her set to a close with a delightful rendition of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Sixteen Tons, the whole room has come together in song and the time is right for Against Me! to come out and blow the roof off the sucker.
And that is exactly what they do. Since the release of their sixth studio album Transgender Dysphoria Blues at the start of 2014, Against Me! have spent the best part of the year systematically rendering every other punk rock band on the planet redundant. A large part of the urgency and potency of this band is of course down to its leader Laura Jane Grace coming out to the world as a transgender woman in Rolling Stone magazine back in May 2012, but their allure and resonance goes way beyond that — as the mix of people from all ages, genders and backgrounds in the room tonight shows.
Laura Jane’s feelings of transgender dysphoria and misalignment may have inspired the music and connected in a deeply personal way with people experiencing their own gender issues, but that struggle to be accepted for who we are is something everyone can all relate to, and that is why this band are so universally appealing. They speak to people in real way, and until you see it live you can’t fully appreciate just how powerful and inspiring a band Against Me! are.
They’re also fucking tight (incredibly so) and with songs as undeniably good as the ones heard tonight (from the glam rock stomp of Don’t Lose Touch to the straight forward pop of Unconditional Love) there’s absolutely no reason this band can’t keep growing and become one of the biggest bands in the world. They do angry pop songs better than anyone, and the thought of an arena or stadium full of empowered people singing the words “You’ve got no cunt in your strut” along with Laura Jane Grace is the most wonderfully subversive concept modern music has to offer. The revolution is not a lie.