23 Live Sex Acts affords listeners an appreciation of the full experience of a live Against Me! performance.
Much has been made of Laura Jane Grace’s transition, a topic she is more than willing to discuss in hopes that her story will help others appreciate and accept who they really are. Always politically, ideologically and philosophically passionate, Grace has openly admitted to sloganeering (“I Was A Teenage Anarchist,” here given a blistering read-through) and being in the wrong, lending an air of genuineness and sense of personal reflection and awareness that flies in the face of punk’s often nihilistic practitioners.
Having embraced her mantle as spokesperson for the transgender community, Grace has refined her focus, taking on a far more personal ideology that goes beyond mere sloganeering and half-hearted threats of revolution to true social change and universal acceptance, both intra- and interpersonally. During the intro to “Pretty Girls (The Mover),” Grace explains how she wasn’t being clear and direct when she originally wrote the song and has since revised it to be more in line with her current level of openness and honesty.
While there have been many outward changes within the group over the years – not just Grace’s transition but also personnel and ideological shakeups – the one constant has remained their forceful vitality and unbridled passion. Far from merely a live rehash of last year’s declarative statement of purpose, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, 23 Live Sex Acts finds the band raging through a surprising amount of its back catalog. Opening with the blistering “FUCKMYLIFE666” and a plea to “fuck shit up tonight,” Grace and company proceed to do just that over the course of the ensuing nearly 90-minute live performance.
Because of this, much of 23 Live Sex Acts feels like a cathartic gathering of those feeling lost or disenfranchised, a safe place for them to be who they are and celebrate all our inherent differences. During “New Wave,” she chastises a security guard for harassing a concert-goer who was simply dancing and then, dripping vitriolic sarcasm, encourages the crowd to stop enjoying themselves, smiling or having a good time.
It’s this kinship with the audience, an almost unprecedented level of appreciation and gratitude for their presence and support, which has always been at the heart of Against Me! as a band. Given their renewed vitality and sharpened focus, they prove themselves all the more relevant within our contemporary social climate.
Though much of Transgender Dysphoria Blues understandably appears within the set and is often given the most energetic, aggressive performances (see Grace’s aside after turning in a surging version of “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”), the band manages a fine balance of new and old, rewarding those long-time fans that have remained with the band through all hosts of trials and tribulations. And because of this, much of 23 Live Sex Acts carries with it a celebratory feel, a secure space in which to exist, passionately express ideologies and be able to feel comfortable in one’s own skin.
One can’t help but feel a direct connection not only to the band, but the performance itself. It’s a surprisingly effective encapsulation of the feeling of having been there, something that does not always translate into a live recording. But by the show’s end, you feel the exhaustion and elation that no doubt permeated the venue. Firing on all cylinders throughout, Grace’s powerful bark cuts through the buzz-saw guitars and pummeling drums, ensuring her message reaches all the way to the back of the room, leaving not a single person unaffected.
While perhaps a bit overlong, 23 Live Sex Acts affords listeners an appreciation of the full experience of a live Against Me! performance. Here, Grace sounds alive, vital and, perhaps most importantly, truly confident and comfortable in her own skin. 23 Live Sex Acts won’t win any new fans, but it will reaffirm the faithful.