In high school I was always the kid walking around the halls with my headphones on, rocking out in my own little world. People unfamiliar with the concept of a “one-person dance party” stared at me like I was psychotic. I never minded; I just had a good time. The music that bled through my headphones into the surrounding hallway was not the Top 40 or Dirty South that was popular at my school at the time; it was loud, typically anthemic, and reasonably impassioned. Now, three years after having strayed from the aforementioned angsty genre in which I once found interest, Against Me! remains a personal outlet.
The four piece from Gainesville, Fla., is laden with acoustic guitar, syncopated drums, and harsh, semi-yelling vocals. They are considered “folk-punk,” a genre which I initially labeled as being too abrasive. I didn’t truly understand or appreciate the genre until I saw Against Me! live. The show was unlike any which I had experienced; it seemed as though everyone knew every lyric to every song. It was like a huge pub: Hundreds of people sang the same semi-political choruses in a pleasantly dissonant roar. The band broke a collective sweat from dancing and exerting more energy than I could have ever expected. There were no mosh pits or girls wearing Ugg boots. The show wasn’t treated as a place where individuals prove their devotion to a specific genre through their clothing choices or attitudes. That night was just a bunch of people together in a room sharing music, dance and an obtuse feeling of camaraderie; I was with a group of friends to whom I had never actually been introduced. I haven’t been to a concert like that since.
Every so often I walk along the Cut at night and hear a bunch of guys with acoustic guitars singing random Against Me! songs. They sit in a circle strumming and singing at the top of their lungs, not caring about who is trying to study around them or who actually likes the band. I hear:
Everyone would leave with the memory that there was no place else in the world/ And this was where they always belonged/ We would dance like no one was watching... /Just gimme a scene where the music is free/ And the beer is not the life of the party/ There’s no need to shit talk or impress/ ‘Cause honesty and emotion are not looked down upon,
and it reminds me of that night at the show. I crack a smile, knowing that there are still people who love music for how it makes them feel, not for the scene or a prescriptive image. They appreciate how music should bring people together and make them happy, not self-conscious. Consider this a “thanks” to those guys, from the kid with the headphones.