As soon as Laura Jane Grace, formerly Tom Gabel of pop punk outfit Against Me!, announced that she would be touring solo, fans new and old perked up. Against Me! hasn’t toured as a band in several years, and their last album was released over two years ago. Not to mention, many long-time fans stepped away from the group after they joined a major label and, consequently, altered their sound. But after Grace’s public announcement that she would be living (and performing) as a woman, new songs and a new image emerged. No longer just a frontman for a punk band, she’s now an icon for transgender individuals around the world. And her new songs kick ass, to boot. Their long-promised new album is called Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and several singles have already been released. She played a sold-out acoustic show at Washington, D.C.’s Rock and Roll Hotel this week to a loving crowd who was ecstatic to have her back onstage.
Laura Jane Grace at FYF Fest 2012
The most interesting part of Against Me! shows has always been the spectrum of fans. Young kids, pop punkers, well-dressed young professionals and hardcore fans dotted the audience. 14-year old kids brushed shoulders with aging punks and with D.C. yuppies alike, and gauged ears were just as common as bedazzled ones. After a soulful, honest, heart-on-her-sleeves performance by Mina Caputo (the artist formerly known as Keith Caputo of metal group Life of Agony), the audience was begging to see what Grace had in store.
Unsurprisingly, she bounded onstage, a toothy grin shining through her long brown hair. Immediately picking up an acoustic guitar, she simply thanked the crowd and tore into a 20-song set of love, loss and gender dysphoria. Beginning with songs from Against Me!’s upcoming album, Grace hardly needed to explain the simultaneous pain and relief of her new identity. “Fuckmylife666” and “True Trans Soul Rebel,” the two singles released so far from the upcoming Transgender Dysphoria Blues, both received warm reception from the audience, although “Black Me Out” was by far the favorite of the new material. This song is everything about Against Me! that fans can agree on; whether or not you liked 2007’s New Wave, there’s nothing like a good ole fist-thumping singalong to “I’m gonna piss on the walls of your house / I’m gonna cut those brass rings off your fat fucking fingers.” The combination of old Tom Gabel grit and growl with Laura Jane Grace’s genuine happiness and spirit made for a fantastic performance.
Although the first half of her set was primarily new material, she was sure to give fans the old cuts they love. “Sink, Florida, Sink” and “Walking Is Still Honest,” played at all Against Me! shows, provided old-school shouts and claps, as if the audience was transported back to a 2003 Warped Tour. During “Sink, Florida, Sink,” Laura sang some unique runs not featured on the recorded version, while the crowd supported with the constant melody everyone knows and loves. She was sure to point out how amazed and honored she was to be surrounded by so much love, especially in a world as aggressively male-dominated as punk rock music.
It was a true punk evening, even if there wasn’t a mosh pit; strangers pulled together to create a moment of pure release, screaming words that heal breakup wounds, the pain of moving away or the loss of a loved one. Laura expertly directed it all without doing much more besides announcing the song titles and offering a “thank you” here and there. Her support system has done nothing but grow since her decision, as fans have proven they are here to stay as long as Laura Jane Grace will have them. Armed with only an acoustic guitar, this woman is taking on the world of punk rock like no one else has ever before. If “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong,” then we’ll have two of whatever she’s drinking.
Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat