Against Me! have been favourites of mine for a couple of years now, I’d finally managed to catch them live earlier this year (see my review here) at The Garage in London and they were absolutely fantastic. My expectations were naturally very high, for both the show at The Fighting Cocks and the earlier ‘unplugged’ instore at Banquet Records, especially considering the bands acoustic beginnings.
Florida’s finest actually started out as the one-man acoustic act of frontman Tom Gabel, before eventually expanding to a four piece. As such, the bands first album, ‘Reinventing Axl Rose’ was an acoustic-based, politically charged effort in the vein of folk-punk which shone with raw, aggressive energy. These origins have always existed as a strong base with Tom Gabel’s incredible, punchy voice and scathing political lyrics being the driving features of the band for their subsequent releases.
We arrived at Banquet Records just as the band had started their set and with the tiny record store being crammed with other excited fans we were stuck at the back, but the sound system that had been rigged up by the shop was excellent, all the instruments and most importantly Tom’s voice coming through clear as a bell even from the back.laying mostly a mix of their old material (obviously) and stripped-down versions of tracks from their new release ‘White Crosses’, each song drawing rapturous applause and sing-a-longs from the majority of the crowd. Old favourites ‘Pints of Guinness Make You Strong’ and ‘Sink, Florida, Sink’ (video here) get the best response, most of us punching the air and singing along to every word, with Tom stepping back from his microphone at points to hear the words being sang back at him. The White Crosses material sounds fantastic acoustic, with the band treading new ground themselves, having not played some of the new songs acoustic before!
Bizarrely though, there seems to be a few people present who aren’t singing, aren’t enjoying the music, aren’t even clapping after songs! Strange that such a tiny, intimate gig would not be crammed with nothing but die-hard fans. But they don’t damage the atmosphere, which is one of a crowd completely adoring of the band and most refreshing of all, a band completely adoring of their fans. After the show we all file out and queue up outside Banquet for the band signing, which, when we get inside to meet them, confirms the stories we’ve heard about Against Me! - that they’re the nicest bunch of guys in a band you could ever hope to meet.
The Fighting Cocks is somewhat of a punk staple in the music community that has built up around Kingston. Comprising of a bar with a tiny venue out back, they have a growing reputation for booking some big name bands, a reputation further galvanised by tonight’s show.
We just manage to cram ourselves into the Cocks as the band are heading in and they literally have to squeeze past all of us to get to the tiny stage, which is barely a foot off the ground. Thankfully, myself and my friend have got ourselves in a prime position for the gig, only about one or two rows back from the band, and at one point during the show me and another guy are literally right in front of Tom, yelling the words back at him!
Anticipation for the show has been running at an all time-high (the tickets sold out in 4 minutes!) and as soon as the band takes to the stage, the whole crowd erupts. What follows is one of the most electric and energetic gigs Kingston has ever seen, with the entire room going crazy, arms in the air and voices singing along in unison. The band showcase material across their entire life-span with each song’s lyrics being spat out and screamed with fiery passion from Tom. Andrew, George and James back him up with thunderous bass-lines, taut drumming and searing lead, the band operating like a tight, muscular machine. ‘White People for Peace’ is my personal choice of the evening, but it’s great to hear the new album material sound just as epic and powerful in such a tiny venue as it does on record. The Fighting Cocks capacity is only about 150, and the venue gets extremely hot, especially when its packed to the rafters like it is tonight. Both the crowd and the band are absolutely drenched in sweat, but this only adds to the intimate spirit of this incredible show.
The best element of the Cocks is partially owed to its aforementioned tiny stage height and intimacy – there is practically no divide between the band and the audience. You are right in the band’s faces, singing the songs back at them in an exuberant display of music and comradery. One of the original ideals of punk rock was the breaking down of boundaries between musicians and fans and Against Me! have always been advocates of this, from playing tiny, intimate shows to being open and friendly with their fans. The perfect venue to see the most vital punk band on the planet right now, tonight’s show was nothing short of incredible. I know I said the same thing about their previous show at The Garage, but Against Me! at The Fighting Cocks was simply my best gig of the year so far, a sentiment the band themselves agreed on, with Tom Gabel responding to my Tweet of “best gig of the year” with “Best gig of my year for sure. I'm still out of breath!”.
See what I mean? The barrier between band and fan is simply not there.
Photos by Maryam Hassan of Maryam Photography. Used with permission. Check out her website for more great photos from this gig and many others -maryamphotography.co.uk/
Note - The video I link to was not filmed by me. I'm not sure who filmed it, but it's great that they did! You can find in on the Banquet Records Website - banquetrecords.com