with Henry Clay People
Ostensibly, I was at this show to review the Henry Clay People’s performance, but the poppy Californian party-rockers literally played their last notes as I entered the venue. And since a giant black curtain separated the front half of the room from the back one, I didn’t even see the band on stage. The minute or two I caught of their set closer (I think it was “Working Part Time,” but it just as easily could’ve been anything from their new album Somewhere on the Golden Coast) as I made my way to the door was enjoyable if not instantly recognizable, and I was disappointed when I realized that they were at the end of their set rather than the beginning. Most venues in Salt Lake have a history of listing ridiculously early start times and then not even opening doors for hours after the intended time, but apparently they don’t fuck around at The Rail. I can’t comment on their live show, but if you like The Thermals, Pavement, The Hold Steady and Weezer, I wholeheartedly recommend the Henry Clay People’s new album.
My disappointment was short-lived, as Against Me!, one of my favorite bands of all time, was set to take the stage next. The early start time meant I’d be home by 9:00 and able to keep my strict, geriatric-lite sleep schedule and be in bed by 11:00. Score. While waiting for the band to set up, I noticed that this was not the kind of crowd that I’m used to. Directly in front of me were a middle-aged couple and their family, pretzels and sodas in hand, all seemingly enjoying themselves, and a legion of the kind of people you’d expect to be attending an event with the X96 “incident management vehicle” parked outside. There were also some bedgraggled, tattooed, drunken people who were clearly there to see Against Me! (and who would likely be disappointed by their set of mostly new material), but they were few and far between. Still, I saw the lack of rabid Against Me! fans and the presence of a generally mellow crowd to be advantageous, as that meant I could enjoy the band’s set without getting kicked in the head by overzealous fans or challenged to a fight by pubescent girls vying for position in the pit.
Against Me! took the stage and it was immediately clear how much the band has changed recently with the addition of drummer George Rebelo (easily the second dreamiest member of Hot Water Music) and touring keyboardist Franz Nicolay (pretty much the best part of The Hold Steady’s glory days), as well as a fill-in bassist who I didn’t recognize. All three of the newbies adhered to the all-black AM! uniform sported by frontman Tom Gabel and guitarist James Bowman, though Nicolay added a bit of flair with his black vest and the classy black button-up beneath it. They opened with “High Pressure Low” from their new album White Crosses and I was immediately into it. Against Me! was probably more energetic than I’ve ever seen them, even without their regular bassist Andrew Seward, and Nicolay almost stole the show with his theatrical style and overly-dramatic backup vocals, though his singing and instruments were barely audible over the rest of the band. Next, Rebelo pounded the telltale rhythm of “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” out of his drumkit and Nicolay picked up an accordion. Fuck yes! A small group of rowdy fans revealed themselves near Gabel and the crowd was fully into the set from that point on.
Against Me!’s set, predictably, consisted mostly of newer material. They played six songs from their new album, including the excellent “White Crosses” and “I Was a Teenage Anarchist,” and four songs from their previous album New Wave. “Thrash Unreal” got a reaction nearly as enthusiastic as “Pints of Guinness,” but from a seemingly different part of the crowd. I looked around and saw disturbingly young people singing along from beneath their Hot Topic purchased alterna-wear, but I was too into the band at the moment to really bemoan my oldness or Against Me!’s new fanbase. Plus, they didn’t play any of the truly bad songs from New Wave—you haven’t known true suffering until you’ve heard Gabel and Bowman duet on “Borne of the FM Waves of the Heart.” Even though I enjoy the new album and heard all of the songs from New Wave that I wanted to, I was aching for some older songs, and Against Me! Finally delivered with a great closing trifecta of “Miami” (one of my favorite songs, and one I’ve never heard live before), “I Still Love You Julie” and “Sink, Florida, Sink.” The band went through 14 songs in 45 minutes and managed to keep me and the rest of the audience interested and entertained throughout.
I didn’t stay for Silversun Pickups. That’s not a judgement of that band or their fans—I’m just not familiar with them and wouldn’t have gotten anything out of it. Even if I had stayed and even if I was a fan of the band, experience tells me I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself. The first time I saw Against Me! they opened for Mastodon, another of my favorite bands, and AM! outrocked one of the sludgiest bands in the world by a large margin. Even though I missed the Henry Clay People, what started as a slightly disappointing night turned into a pretty good one, and I was finally able to appreciate the new era of Against Me! and their still great live show.