Against Me! with Rise Against , Anti-Flag , None More Black and New Mexican Disaster Squad at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Wednesday (January 21). $20, advance $16.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Against me!'s Tom Gabel has social anxiety issues. Poor little dude.
"I don't know. I just get really nervous sometimes. I don't feel very confident in large groups of people."
So that's why you decided to start a band and get onstage?
"Exactly. I said, 'I think I'll get in front of as many people as possible and expose myself emotionally!'"
OK, but he doesn't get stage fright. Go figure.
Against Me! started out as a one-man band back when Gabel was a teenage high school dropout. Instruments were added one by one until the group became a four-piece, including Gabel's high school pal James Bowman.
They were punk rockers together in Naples, a very small town in Florida (current population 2,000), where they used to get beat up by redneck bullies on a regular basis.
"We got our asses kicked all the time in high school cuz we were punk kids. We were this little handful of kids who looked funny and wore our hair in funny ways, and that alone was enough. It just came to us very naturally!" he laughs.
Wait! It gets punk rockier! The pair were also a couple of troublemaking hellions.
"Both me and James had felony records by the time we were 15," admits Gabel. "James has 13 counts of grand theft, and I have battery on an officer, resisting arrest with violence, resisting arrest without violence and drug charges."
The cops, he says, just beat him up, an experience that made him get political (Gabel is all kinds of political), though he laughs when I ask if he's deeply scarred and offer him a hug (a mental hug, since he's on the phone from Florida).
"I'm kind of over it now, but at the age of 15 that was definitely something that got me. Also, at the time, Naples had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the U.S., with extreme poverty very close by in a town called Immokalee where I used to go every Christmas to serve meals.
"Later, we started Food Not Bombs there. It's a very weird area, with the gross differences between the two towns. So that also had a lot to do with shaping my views."
Gabel, incidentally, was a military kid, neither millionaire nor dirt poor.
Several years later, they now reside in the somewhat larger but by no means massive town of Gainesville (current population 95,447 - how exact is that?). The whuppin's are less frequent but the boys remain punk rock, with some alt country, folk and blues elements thrown in, as can be heard on their latest disc, As The Eternal Cowboy. It's rompin'-stompin', with shout-along choruses and an underlying melancholy, très left and somewhat Billy Braggy.
"I like him, but not half as much as everyone seems to think I do," says Gabel of Bragg. "Sometimes we get annoyed with the constant comparisons."
The disc was recorded on analog at the famous Ardent Studios in Memphis, a location they chose because that's where the Replacements made Pleased To Meet Me. It had nothing to do with the sound of Pleased To Meet Me, which is digital. They just like the Mats.
"We thought it would be cool to record where the Replacements did. We didn't even realize at the time all the other people who had recorded there (like the Stones and Led Zeppelin). We heard that when the Replacements were there they'd get really fucked up and throw up into their hands and throw the throw-up onto the ceiling and the walls, and that if you looked you could still see the stains.
"We asked the engineer if it was true, and he showed us the stains, which was fuckin' awesome."