Album Review: Against Me!, ’23 Live Sex Acts’
At one point on 23 Live Sex Acts, the second live album from Against Me!, the song "New Wave" falls apart and, for almost a full minute and a half, frontwoman Laura Jane Grace scolds the venue's security guards, commanding them not to eject an audience member. When it's clear that the guards aren't complying, Grace yells, "Hey! F----g a--hole!!!" The Gainesville punk quartet never picks the song back up again, which almost turns the moment into self-aggrandizing dead air, but then Grace quips, "If he leaves, you have to get up here and play the guitar."
That one exchange effectively sums up the humane, confrontational-but-quick-witted attitude that has defined the band's rabble-rousing politics since day one. When Grace announces "Let's f--k s--t up" as the album kicks off, she makes it clear that the Against Me! live experience is supposed to be a good time. Here, the band is captured burning through (ahem) 22 and a half songs while touring last year in support of their most recent album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the first Against Me! album following Grace's much-publicized gender transition. (Grace briefly references the subject from the stage when she introduces "True Trans Soul Rebel" by saying "This is a song about celebrating gender variation as a thing of beauty.")
Opting for six selections from Dysphoria Blues, that leaves plenty of room for the band to scroll through their back catalog, drawing from older staples like "Cliché Guevarra" and "Sink, Florida, Sink." Five of the tunes included here also appeared on the band's previous live album, Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live in London!!!, but Grace and company wisely opt to scatter the new material throughout the running order. Thankfully, they also don't simply start off with track 1 from Dysphoria Blues, which shows that they put some actual thought into set list construction.
Where the studio versions of the more recent material benefitted from beefed-up production, 23 Live Sex Acts sounds thin and even ratty in comparison. Still, the sound quality only serves to accentuate Against Me!'s scrappy determination, and the band sounds positively joyful on these renditions. With 23 Live Sex Acts, Against Me! prove that creating an atmosphere of celebration can be the most effective way of galvanizing an audience into caring about people.