Against Me! at the West End Cultural Centre (a photographic review) / by Greg Gallinger

Stylus Magazine sent Matt Williams and I to the West End Cultural Centre to catch Against Me! with Laura Stevenson and the Cans, and Cheap Girls.

Matt wrote a really nice review that you can checkout over at Stylus.

We arrived at the venue and waded through the crowd collecting in the lobby. Matt b-lined it for the front stage left, whereas I hung back sipping a beer I didn't even really want to drink trying to assess the lighting situation and work up my nerve to start shooting.

Shows at the West End always start/end early due to noise curfews in the neighbourhood, which means the first half of the show usually has a much smaller crowd. This was a sold out show, but until the headliner goes on there always seems to be a bubble between the stage and the crowd, who stand apprehensively at a safe distance. This part of the show fuels my trepidation, I fire off a few shots of the openers, getting confortable, slowly working up the nerve to get closer to the stage. It sometimes feels like walking through no man's land, cautiously aware of the crowd behind me.

I can see that Matt is enjoying the show. He comments to me that Cheap Girls performance warranted the purchase of a t-shirt. Their laid back college rock reminds me of Matt's former band Haunter, so it's no surprise that he's digging it.

Laura Stevenson and the Cans up the energy level a few notches with their accordion and xylophone accents on top of songs about death. Matt observes that the openening acts feel like the calm before the storm, I nod in agreement.

Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!

My comfort level increases as more people gather in front of the stage. I feel most at home when I can blend into the crowd with my camera. People's excitement for seeing Laura Jane Grace, the dynamic front woman of Against Me! and subject of recent articles in Rolling Stone, Elle, and even Cosmopolitan, is palpable. Feedback rolls through over the PA and the crowd grows restless.

Suddenly the band takes the stage and the place explodes as the first notes of FUCKMYLIFE666 echo out across the crowd.

I'm usually forced to shoot with split focus, my eyes on the stage through the viewfinder, but my arms braced, ready for the inevitable onslaught of a kettled crowd. However tonight is different. Sure the crowd is bursting with energy, but there's a noticeable lack of machismo.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the most recent release from Against Me! Deals with Laura Jane Grace's personal journey of self discovery and battle with gender dysphoria. The response from fans has been an outpouring of support, epecially amongst young people struggling with similar issues. This is reflected in the diverse demographic of the crowd. There are more women in attendance than I think I've ever seen at a punk show.

The joyful exuberance of so many of the girls standing right up front is mirrored by Grace's own expression. You can tell that she's cut out for the stage.

Being a longtime Against Me! fan I can't help getting caught up in the excitement, mouthing words to some of my favourites, like Cliché Guevara, Walking is Still Honest, and Sink Florida Sink, as I scan the stage with my camera. But I can see these songs mean so much more to some people. Pulling on their heart strings. It must mean a lot having someone to look up to who is brave enough to publicly address deep personal issues so candidly.

I could probably go on and on about how amazing their performance was, instead I'll leave with you with the images I captured.