It’s kind of funny that after so many years of not seeing punk shows, that I went to so many in 2015. The next concert adventure of the year was in Madison, Wisconsin–a city I’d literally only visited once before in my lifetime, over 30 years prior, when I was still in college. Some shows stand out more than others, and this show was to be one of those.
In our quest to see Frank Iero once more in our home state, my daughters and I were oh so fortunate that his band hooked up with Gainesville, Florida’s Against Me! for their summer tour. (It was a sacrifice we were willing to make.) Tickets were crazy reasonable, so we booked a hotel room just west of Madison and planned our trip.
Against Me! with openers Annie Girl and the Flight, plus Frank Iero and the Cellabration, July 3rd, Majestic Theatre, Madison, WI
I was jumpy before we left Milwaukee, the way I always am before a show trip; and since my older daughter assured me that traffic in Madison was nuts, I was acutely aware of the timing so we could deal with checking into the hotel, having dinner, etc. What I hadn’t counted on was that Madison, our capital city, would be almost deserted traffic-and people-wise just before the July 4th holiday. So we arrived pretty early–too early, in fact–without much to do but walk around and try to amuse ourselves before showtime. (We did spot Frank outside the backstage door of the venue while looking for somewhere to park, so that was something.)
To pass the time, we walked along the beautiful waterfront plaza that overlooks Lake Monona; we window-shopped closed storefronts; and we discussed where to eat, and what would be the best time to join the line. At last, the three of us agreed on a restaurant almost across the street from the Majestic, and had a nice meal outside on their patio. It was an especially good location, because we could totally keep an eye on the line.
With an hour or so to spare, the girls and I took our places and watched the line grow behind us. None of us had ever seen Against Me!, and my friend Deb had alerted me that the pit would probably be crazy; I planned to be nearby, but not in it if possible. I’m sure my kids had other ideas. Once inside, we checked out the merch table, saving it for later. The Majestic is a rather small, older theatre, the kind that should always be treasured and maintained. I thought maybe the floor space was a little smaller than at Reggie’s Rock Club, but my older daughter seemed to think it was about the same. The main difference was that rather than just an open-floor plan, there were “tiers” to the floor–large, oversized steps that could hold several rows of concertgoers (and would hold chairs and tables for other kinds of events). Each of these had a railing to lean on. (One of them held the sound board, and a merch area for the first opener.) 10/10, would go again.
I decided to hang out on the left side of the floor, behind one of the railings. The girls went to get a little closer. Not too long before the show, three recent arrivals came to stand in front of my spot–two guys and a trans woman named Leah. I was chatting with all three of them. One guy was hilarious, with a serious Spanish accent that I originally pegged as Cuban. He turned out to be from Peru, and I never did get his name. He didn’t quite make it through the show; he left after Frank’s set because it was so loud, Leah told me. The other guy was American, and I know he gave me his name at some point, but I have no idea what it was. We bonded briefly at the bar over our mutual love of The Killers. Overall, the crowd was genial and my view was excellent.
Before the first opener came on, the audience got an unexpected treat. Evelyn, the young daughter of Against Me’s frontwoman, Laura Jane Grace, was blowing bubbles backstage. She eventually came out onstage a little further, and people were cheering her as she continued. She was adorable. Eventually, from my vantage point I saw Laura leaning forward from her backstage seat, and beckon to her daughter to come back near her. It was very sweet.
Annie Girl and the Flight (here on soundcloud) took the stage not long after Evelyn had vacated it, and they were awesome. They kind of reminded me of a punk-rock version of the progressive rock group Renaissance (their female lead singer had a similar voice). I really enjoyed them. Shortly thereafter, Frank Iero and the Cellabration played a slightly shorter set than at their headlining gig in March. Neither group engaged in a lot of between-song talk, but that was okay. Both did an amazing job.
After Frank’s set, I wandered a little and wound up back further in the crowd than I had been. Following a brief wait, Against Me! took the stage. Wow. The crowd was enthusiastic, to say the least (pretty sure I was one of the oldest people there). In case you don’t keep up with such things, I should note that Laura is a trans woman who was born Tom Gabel. This was most important for a number of reasons, chief of which was that it felt like those in the crowd who were trans, or gender fluid, felt a lot safer at this show than they might have at similar punk shows. Laura played to this strength, wearing her now-famous “Gender Is Over” shirt onstage. There was very little between-song patter, but that wasn’t important; just as they should, the songs did most of the talking.
- Unconditional Love
- Walking Is Still Honest
- Cliché Guevara
- You Look Like I Need a Drink
- New Wave
- White Crosses
- Spanish Moss
- Bamboo Bones
- Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ (featuring Frank Iero on guitar)
- Dead Friend
- T. S.R. (This Shit Rules)
- The Ocean
- Transgender Dysphoria Blues
- Song played from tape (Because of the Shame)
- Thrash Unreal (1st verse and chorus)
- True Trans Soul Rebel
- Black Me Out
- I Was a Teenage Anarchist
- Tonight We’re Gonna Give it 35%
- (acoustic) Androgynous
- (The Replacements cover)
- Pints of Guinness Make You Strong
- Sink, Florida, Sink
I didn’t keep any notes at this show, either, but from what I recall, this setlist (again, from setlist.fm) looks pretty complete to me. The audience was wild (for me): there was a ton of crowd-surfing, as well as a couple of brave souls who jumped onstage. In fact, one sang along briefly with Laura, and then did a stage dive back into the crowd. Props to the security folks (on the floor and on/near the stage) for not just grabbing people and tossing them back. People were nearby and ready to “protect” the band, but protection turned out to be unnecessary on that night.
After my kids and I finally found each other (they were in back of me a few rows, and could see me, but I didn’t see them until we were right on top of each other), we hit up the merch line. The girls told me they’d been close to the pit, but once things started getting crazy, they’d sensibly moved back a little. Then we waited outside the venue until about 1 AM, hoping to see Laura and/or Frank. First out were Annie Girl and the Flight, who loaded their gear into a van, crammed themselves in right afterwards, and took off into the night. Then, Laura came out to say hello. She bummed a cigarette and took a few deep puffs. Fans milling around had albums and other items to be signed. A few took selfies, of course. Then I said thanks to Laura and shook her hand, and put my arms out for a hug. She was kind enough to oblige.
A minute later, we realized that Frank was sitting on a nearby corner to meet his fans. We ambled over to say hi, and waited in the (now very short) line to see him. We all shook his hand, and the girls told him we’d already been to see him in Chicago. (Me: “Hello again.” Frank [giggling]: “Hello again.”) As usual, he was very nice and super patient, even though it was getting to be almost 2 AM. I was annoyed, though, because I was stupid enough to let my camera battery run down, and was unable to take a photo of this meeting. Finally we got back to our car and drove to our hotel.
Postscript: The next day, of course, was the 4th of July, and a Saturday. I needed to get my older daughter back to Milwaukee in time for a barbeque with her housemates. We stopped off to get some food to contribute, and had a great time with them. Then my younger daughter and I drove back to Green Bay so that she could hook up with a friend to see our downtown fireworks. So I went from headbanging one night, to amazing fireworks on the next. Not a bad weekend at all, I’d say.