Against Me! & Murder By Death at Agora

Grog Shop & AEG present

Against Me! & Murder By Death at Agora

Fri · June 22, 2018

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

The Agora Theater

$29.50 adv / $39.50 dos

Against Me!
Against Me!
To pirate the title of one of their early songs (and still a set-list staple), Against Me! is a band that laughs at danger and breaks all the rules.

Fronted by Laura Jane Grace, AM!’s much-anticipated latest offering, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, is scheduled for release in January 2014. The title of their sixth album offers a direct nod to news that shocked fans and shook up the rock world when it was dropped—Grace is a transitioning transgender person who revealed her story in the May 12, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone (readers curious to learn more about the transition can check out Laura Jane’s “My First Year as a Woman” journal online in Cosmopolitan).

Because Transgender Dysphoria Blues marks the band’s first release with Grace as a woman, there are a lot of misconceptions: The record is neither a radical stylistic departure nor a “concept album.” Rather, it’s just another bold step forward for an artist doing what she has always done—forging her own path by processing the highs and lows of life through music.

Against Me! began as an anarchist solo act in Gainesville, Florida in 1997. After transforming into a traditional four-piece a few years later with the crucial addition of guitarist James Bowman, they quickly became a driving force in the punk scene—despite facing an abundance of unsolicited danger.

While emerging unscathed from two separate road tour spinouts and, more recently, enduring a flying mic stand which cost Grace her front teeth, Against Me! have played in all 50 states and 29 countries, cranking out an average of 200 sweat-drenched, fist-pumping, shout-a-long live gigs per year over the past decade. Their music runs the gamut from thrashing to anthemic to intimate, with Grace’s pointed lyrics and powerhouse voice blending vitriol and vulnerability like few other performers.

With a healthy dose of folk and even some old-school country in their sound, the band’s first three indie full-lengths (2002’s Against Me! is Reinventing Axl Rose, 2003’s As The Eternal Cowboy and 2005’s Searching For A Former Clarity) earned them a rabid and steadily growing following.

Their 2007 major label debut, New Wave, was produced by Butch Vig (Nirvana, Garbage, Green Day) and named “Album of the Year” by SPIN Magazine. The early-Springsteen-esque raver “Thrash Unreal” reached #11 on the Modern Rock charts, and in addition to a headlining tour, the band also supported the Foo Fighters on the road in 2008.

After 2010’s White Crosses (which peaked at #34 on the Billboard charts), the band parted ways with Sire. It was at this time that Grace went through an intense soul-searching phase and eventually decided to transition, going public with the gender dysphoria she had been dealing with since childhood.

As might be expected with such an intensely personal project, Grace took complete creative control of Transgender Dysphoria Blues. She not only assumed producing reins for the first time but even built the Florida studio, Total Treble, where the demos were recorded. Then—more danger struck. During a tornado, a tree crashed through the roof of the studio.

After that mishap, the full record was recorded without further incident at three separate facilities: Dave Grohl’s 606 Studios in Northridge, California; Motor Studios in San Francisco; and Earth Sounds in Valdosta, GA.

Which is certainly not to say Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a “safe” record. Grace’s soul is brutally laid bare here in this riveting 10-song collection. While four of the tracks directly address the unique anxieties and fears inherent with being transgender, they still crackle with universal resonance.

The song “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” written before Grace announced her transition, artfully folds the specter of hateful public perception (“You want them to notice, the ragged ends of your summer dress… They just see a faggot.”) into an irresistible chugga-chugga arrangement, given ballast as always by Bowman’s bouncing guitar and full-bore backing vocals.

Then there is the defiant battle cry of “True Trans Soul Rebel” (released in tandem with “FUCKMYLIFE666” on-line to fans through the Against Me! website in the Fall of 2013). Evoking fatalistic images of escape, the song ultimately showcases the strength both of Grace’s spirit and voice, soaring mightily as it does when she asks the question “Does god bless your transsexual heart?”

The balance of the record covers typical Against Me! touchstones—from matters deeply personal (the sizzling “Unconditional Love”); to political (“Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ,” which recalls Sandinista!-era Clash and the band’s own “From Her Lips To God’s Ears (The Energizer)”) and even the music biz—“Black Me Out” is a flat-out showstopper, with Grace ramping a slow-burn into withering nuclear scorn, screaming at an unnamed power-abusing exec that she wants to “chop those brass rings off your fat fucking fingers” and “piss on the walls of your house.”

Joining Grace and Bowman in the band are a brand-new rhythm section. Longtime bass player Andrew Seward amicably departed Against Me! in 2013 after 11 years with the band. Fat Mike of NOFX (also the owner of Motor Studios) handled bass duty on the recordings of “FUCKMYLIFE666” and “Unconditional Love,” while Laura Jane played on the album’s other eight tracks.

Since that time, Inge Johannson (formerly of Sweden’s International Noise Conspiracy, and a surefire winner of the “Scandinavian Ramones Lookalike Contest,” if one is ever held) has come aboard as the full-time bassist.

The new drummer is punk stalwart Atom Willard, who launched his career as a teenager with Rocket From the Crypt and has had stints with the Offspring, Angels & Airwaves, and Social Distortion. Willard replaced Jay Weinberg, who’d toured with the band since late 2010.

With the lineup changes, Grace acknowledges that Against Me! may be in a state of flux, but the mission is still real: “If I didn’t feel like I had something that I really needed to say with the album we’ve been working on for the past year then I’d humbly hang the hat and move on,” she said in the wake of Seward’s departure.

2013 saw another career milestone for Grace, as she co-wrote a song (“Soulmates to Strangers”) with rock royalty Joan Jett for Jett’s Unvarnished album. Against Me! is set to tour behind the new record in 2014 with an attitude perhaps best summed up by these lines from“FUCKMYLIFE666”: “No more troubled sleep. There’s a brave new world raging inside of me.”
Murder By Death
Murder By Death
They may call Bloomington, Indiana, home, but since their 2000 formation, Murder by Death have been a band without musical borders. Theirs is a world where Old West murder ballads mingle with rock-injected Western classicism; where an album's sequencing can take listeners from a haunted back alley in rural Mexico to a raucous Irish pub. All of which is to say, Murder by Death albums don't just string together songs; they create experiences. With their fifth album (and second for Vagrant), Good Morning, Magpie (04/06/10), Murder by Death continue the tradition of border expansion that drove career standouts like 2006's In Bocca al Lupo and 2008's Red of Tooth and Claw. The difference, however, is that this time, the band literally went off the map to get there.

"Going into the woods helped me write in a way I never would've been able to otherwise," says singer/guitarist Adam Turla, recalling the 2009 retreat into the Tennessee mountains during which, armed with little more than a tent, a fishing pole and a notebook, he wrote the 11 songs that would become Good Morning, Magpie. "There were days where I'd sit down and write for seven hours, make dinner, and then sit down and write late into the night with my little camp light going: just intense, nonstop sessions of pure writing. I've never worked that way, ever, because with all the business of being a band, I've never had so little to do! Every day I was either cooking, hiking while writing, or writing. I didn't speak to a single person the whole time."

Be that as it may, Good Morning, Magpie still speaks volumes. Recorded at Bloomington's Farm Fresh Studios with Jake Belser (who most recently worked with MBD on their all-instrumental soundtrack to Jeff Vandermeer's 2009 book Finch), and mixed by Grammy-winning Red of Tooth and Claw producer Trina Shoemaker, the album weaves 11 disparate stories into a whole that's unlike anything else in the band's catalog. "These songs definitely come together as an album; we just aren't relying on a concept this time," says Turla, referencing the conceptual storylines that drove Murder by Death's last two albums as well as 2002's Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them? "Being out in the woods with no pressure freed me up to explore different moods and different stories, all of which became linked through the experience I had writing them: just that sheer sprint of working in isolation."

With its junk-pile percussion and ramshackle Vaudevillian flow, "You Don't Miss Twice" is the only song on Good Morning, Magpie that directly references Turla's time in the woods—but the song's spirit informs much of what surrounds it. "I was telling a friend how I thought this was our most upbeat record, and his reply was, 'Seriously?'" Turla recalls, laughing. "But 'upbeat' doesn't necessarily mean 'happy.' Take a song like 'Yes'—it's got this fun, shuffling beat and this amazingly catchy melody from Sarah [Balliet, cello], but the lyrics are all about accepting death. Or 'Whiskey in the World,' which is basically a sad bastard's lament about how the whiskey that makes this character enjoy life is also what condemns him. That duality between the music and the lyrics is something we haven't done much until now."

Even though it was written in isolation, Good Morning, Magpie came together over six weeks of rehearsals back in Bloomington—ultimately marking the first time the band recorded a full-length at home. "We ultimately just decided to record in Bloomington because we had a friend here [Belser] with his own studio, and he'd already done a great job with the Finch soundtrack and our B-sides and 7-inches; and we also lucked out and had Trina [Shoemaker] basically making herself available to help us mix whenever we were finished. So then we started thinking, "Man, we have all this time to ourselves; we should just bring in our friends—musicians from Bloomington and Louisville, Kentucky, which is about 75 miles away—and just play parts here and there. It was great—the album ended up with a lot of different instrumentation, and we paid everyone in whiskey."

In keeping with Murder by Death tradition, whiskey also plays muse to a handful of Good Morning, Magpie's songs—including the Balliet-penned opener, "Kentucky Bourbon," which sounds like a Bulleit jingle spun through an old Victrola. But as the album progresses, the songs wind through other locales and moods: from eerie Southern-gothic territory (the creeping, uneasy "White Noise") to an old Spanish cabaret ("On the Dark Streets Below") to the high-noon drama of the title track—itself inspired equally by Welsh legend (the title references a tale of the magpie as Satan's messenger) and the American West. No mere genre exercise, Good Morning, Magpie feels like a travelogue from a band that's logged the miles to write from experience.

"Travel is a big part of this band's reason for being," says Turla, noting that the past few years have seen Murder by Death's passports stamped in Alaska, Greece, Norway and the Italian island of Sardinia, among other far-flung locales. They have challenged their fans to book them all over the world - in as many unique places as possible. "I personally love the sense of variety you get from traveling, and I'm sure that idea influenced the way I approached a lot of these songs. Trying to use different styles and throw in different influences—whether it's the way you turn a phrase or play a certain note—you can suggest different places," he concludes. "That's the fun of fiction; that's the fun of movies, and music can have that effect, too. It's all about being able to transport people to another place."
Venue Information:
The Agora Theater
5000 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH, 44103
http://www.agoracleveland.com/