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Friday, November 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 28.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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From DIY to Inc.

Against Me!
Sunday, March 11, Orpheum Theatre's Stage Door, 7 pm

Dedicated followers of veteran Florida-based punkers Against Me! know that the ex-DIY band have been striking musical blows against the empire with unyielding fervor for the past seven seasons.

Followers, that is, who haven't felt abandoned by the once folk-leaning guitar band's growth in popularity. Main mouth Tom Gabel began his ascendancy up the youth-music ladder by attacking an acoustic guitar and spitting forth angry-young-man lyrics in the manner of Billy Bragg and the early Clash. That was fine with anarchy-embracing rebels who first joined the band's cause. Indeed, Gabel's first album with an electric band, the decidedly anti-corporate Reinventing Axl Rose, is still held up as an example of DIY values at their most pure. You only need to hear the title cut's initial lines to understand how uncompromising their do-it-yourself ethos was back in 2002.

By now, tens of thousands of kids have shouted along in solidarity with the gargly- voiced Gabel as he's declaimed, 'We want a band that plays loud and hard every night/That doesn't care how many people are counted at the door.'

Of course, DIY purity can get a band just so far, especially when its members are looking to cement their success on an international level. So it was hardly surprising that Against Me! decided to sign on with a larger independent label for their second album, As the Eternal Cowboy, which gave more play to Gabel's melodic, singer-songwriting leanings but hardly shied away from politics.

Still, the mere suggestion that Against Me! might make a few more dollars for their efforts alienated some of the hardcores who had initially warmed to them. To the band's credit, they listened to the purists' criticism ' in fact, even addressed it in song ' but they didn't let it shape their future. Instead of toeing the party line, Gabel and his bandmates continued to expand their musical vocabulary, attracting new fans as the old ones fell by the wayside. In 2005, the album Searching for a Former Clarity saw them making more stylistic changes and finding an even broader audience with help from MTV.

Today, Against Me! are set to release their first major-label album on Sire (produced by Smart Studios co-founder Butch Vig), and the controversy over their commercial success continues to rage. Some DIYers even argue that no matter how pointed the band's political statements may be, their new ties to the entertainment behemoth Warner Music Group undercut everything they have to say.

That's a little harsh. Then again, anarcho-punk has never been a place for milquetoasts.

Will Gabel acknowledge his critics when he launches into the band's set at what's certain to be a packed Stage Door? Maybe. More likely, he'll hurtle through a recent political tune like the stirring 'Americans Abroad' and dare the curmudgeons in the crowd to yell out that he's gone soft.

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