Release Date: Sep 4, 2015
Record label: Universal
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Punk Revival
This needed to happen. This really needed to happen. Against Me! has gone through so much as a band and released several full lengths and EPâ€™s since their last live release, Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live in London!!!, which came out in 2006 (unless you count the Live At The Key Club film) when they were still on Fat Wreck Chords, that they were due for a new live album.Right off the bat I have some questions about 23 Live Sex Acts.
At 83 minutes, 23 Live Sex Acts carries considerable weight. It's heftier than the average live album, suggesting this isn't a mere way of biding time while Against Me! regroup and work on new material. Instead, 23 Live Sex Acts plays a bit like a consolidation, a way for leader Laura Jane Grace to draw explicit connections between the group unveiled on 2014's Transgender Dysphoria Blues and the band that existed a decade prior.
In May of 2012, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! did something that no high-profile rock star had ever done before: She came out publicly as a transgender woman, announcing plans to transition fully within the next few years. When Grace revealed her identity and her intentions in an interview with Rolling Stone, it wasn’t just a landmark moment in her own life. It also marked the beginning of a new chapter for a band that seemed to be nearing the end of its story.
Against Me! have released a live album before, but 2006’s Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live in London!!! came a year prior to the band’s major label debut (and breakthrough album) New Wave. It was also way, way before frontwoman Laura Jane Grace admitted to the world that she was a transgender woman and the group released the critically acclaimed Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Also, by the time of this recording in 2014, the band featured a completely different rhythm section than during the previous live set.
Live records perform a curious function. On the one hand, they’re a band’s glossy advertisement of their best selves, accentuating their strengths as unadorned performers. On the other hand, they can be heard as a faintly vulnerable snapshot of their sound in its purest form, for better or worse, warts and all. It’s like seeing a friend’s a no-filter selfie on Instagram.
The last time punks Against Me! put out a live album, fully half the band were different members and it was three albums ago, so it makes sense that we get their Alive II here (minus the studio trickery and half-assed new studio songs, but, work with me). The band is nothing but pure energy, as songs like "True Trans Soul Rebel" and "Walking Is Still Honest" sound way more lively than the already-intense studio versions, the current incarnation of the band gelling together in a big way. This is a live album in the most honest of ways, overdubbing clearly not being something the band is interested in; sure, some of the performances aren't perfect, at times sounding downright ragged and sloppy, but that's the glory of a loud, fast and sweaty live punk rock show, here captured in all its glory as the band plough through songs from all eras of their history, finding the common thread between the old basement-punk anthems and the slick arena-punk rockers of later years in a shockingly profound manner.
Against Me!'s most recent LP, 2014's Transgender Dysphoria Blues, was the punk group's first since frontwoman Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender, and songs like "True Trans Soul Rebel" sounded like cries of freedom. On 23 Live Sex Acts — recorded on various dates of the band's tour last year — they ring even louder. Grace updates the lyrics to 2005's "Pretty Girls (the Mover)" to address her identity, and interrupts 2007's "New Wave" to castigate a security guard for ejecting a fan: "If he leaves, you have to get up here and play guitar!" It's a loose affair, but Grace's sheer exuberance keeps it exciting.
Although live records become a permanent part of an artist's legacy the moment they're released, they're only a snapshot in time. Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live in London!!! from 2006 was pummelling but brief (and lacking stage banter), representing an angry time for the band. Against Me! are still evolving, and newest live album 23 Live Sex Acts finds them with two different members and revered by fans.
As Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace points out in one of this disc’s song introductions, it’s been nearly 10 years since her band’s previous live album (Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live in London!!!) was released. 23 Live Sex Acts proves just how far the band have come since their early days. Warts and all, this isn’t a glossy live album with overdubs and fixes: Instead, Grace and Co.