Against Me! Olympic Community Hall, Halifax NS, October 23

Against Me! Olympic Community Hall, Halifax NS, October 23
Photo: Ali Seglins
Punk rock is always about catharsis and release, but Against Me!'s first Halifax show in eight years was something slightly different: an expression of joy.

That may not seem like the most punk rock sentiment in the world, but in the context of the past few years of Against Me!'s career — Laura Jane Grace's coming out as transgendered and beginning transition, the quitting of the band's rhythm section — it's every bit as rebellious as the band's raw, provocative early material. Boasting HPX's most infectious smile, Grace beamed ear-to-ear through the entire hour-plus set at Olympic Community Hall. The crowd, eager to catch up with a band that's been through a lot (and released a lot of great songs) in the years since they last made it to town, responded in kindness and in kind.

Starting off with Reinventing Axl Rose opener "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong," the band blasted through a 16-song career overview. Highlights from this year's Transgender Dysphoria Blues got every bit the reaction of classics like "New Wave" and "Cliché Guevara," and sing-alongs abounded through the set. (No one seemed to sing louder or more enthusiastically than new bassist Inge Johansson, who looks like a Ramones tribute band member that's ecstatic to be playing in his other favourite punk band.) The energy level onstage was matched, beat for beat, by the fevered audience, making for a love-in that was inspiring and infectious.

Before launching into "I Was a Teenage Anarchist," Grace joked around by singing a snippet of Olivia Newton John's "Physical." It was on-point: In interviews, Grace has talked about the distance she felt between her and her audience when she identified as male, but on Thursday night, October 23) every inch of that distance was obliterated. Grace spent a good portion of the set at the front of the stage, throwing herself into the crowd to scream along with fans or, on multiple occasions, taking up the invitation to crowd surf while continuing to sing. In her most memorable stage dive, she fell softly onto another surfer, the two of them riding the wave of hands and limbs together for a few short moments.

You don't see "thank yous" quite as generous and genuine as the ones Grace delivered after an encore of "We Laugh at Danger." The feeling was clearly mutual.