Against Me!’s first live album Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live In London!!! was released in 2006. Recorded at London’s Mean Fiddler venue when touring their third album Searching For A Former Clarity, it was a fine representation of the rawness and scrappiness of their early material, and a notable precursor to them becoming one of the biggest modern punk bands in the world.
Almost a decade later and that’s exactly what has happened, with the Gainsville quartet becoming a truly brilliant band in their own right. 23 Live Sex Acts shows exactly what it is that has made them so great. Recorded during their 2014 US tour supporting sixth album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, it’s pretty much a de facto greatest hits compilation, drawing on almost every point in their career for that rarest of beasts – a live album actually worth listening to. While their studio efforts have become much more equable and melodic in recent years, 23 Live Sex Acts sees them reverting to a more raw, primal sound. It’s refreshing to hear the likes of White Crosses portrayed with ragged edges though while still being as rousing as ever, while older tracks like Sink, Florida, Sink and a particularly stirring Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong have lost none of their brilliance over time.
The less-polished production job fully emulates the magic of Against Me! live and suitably translates to record. Against Me! are one of the few bands that can actually pull off a live album without sacrificing an important chunk of their live show – on the stage, they’re all about plugging in and bashing out song after song with no frills, meaning that it’s all captured on here without losing anything crucial. The production also means that all the imperfections are left in – midway through New Wave the song is stopped for Laura Jane Grace the contest a fan being thrown out of the show, with the rest of the track’s runtime being the conversation between her and security. It’s not the kind of live album where it’s the best, most perfectly recorded parts of a show – this is Against Me! live, warts and all, and it’s all the more thrilling for it.
In terms of the tracklisting, that really can’t be faulted, plucking all of the best bits from the band’s extensive career. Fuckmylife666 is one of the best set openers from any band, while grungy polemic of Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists is the Against Me! equivalent of a mid-set lull, and The Ocean‘s self-fulfilling prophecy is one of those brilliant moments that compilations like this manage to dig back up. It’s a testament to this band’s songwriting ability that a collection of songs as extensive as this remains of a consistently high quality throughout, especially in a live setting.
Still, the search for the perfect live album continues, as while the band have produced a valiant effort, it isn’t without its flaws. Thrash Unreal, a song that could only be improved by playing it live more often, is the only time that Laura Jane Grace’s vocals sound anything less than record quality, coming across as tired and lethargic, and deliberately ropey production occasionally feels a bit too lo-fi from an instrumental point of view. Nevertheless, that Against Me! have attempted the dreaded live album and have come out with a product this complete and comprehensive is a definite achievement. Granted it would be more impressive if this had been by any other band, but that’s only because the benchmark that Against Me! have set themselves is already sky-high. And as mostly inessential this album is, it serves as more proof of how bloody brilliant Against Me! are.
For fans of: The Menzingers, Off With Their Heads, The Loved Ones
Words by Luke Nuttall
’23 Live Sex Acts’ is out now on Total Treble Music.