“Quarantine is very nice,” is Laura Jane Grace’s unpopular opinion on “Shelter in Place,” one of the 14 songs the punk singer wrote over the last two years. But to be fair, she wrote this song well over a year ago when she had to quarantine in regards to medical reasons. Recorded with minimal production, Stay Alive is Grace’s most recent solo project, a record filled with raw, veritable tracks and retrospective storytelling. During quarantine, the singer gave up smoking weed and turned her focus toward putting the album together. This Saturday, the Against Me! frontwoman stepped out of isolation and took on Lincoln Hall for a live stream debut of the record.
Grace appears solo onstage with nothing but a microphone and her guitar, faded lights casting a blue spotlight around her. “I hope this is the only time in my career that I am so very happy there is no one else here,” Grace jokes after “The Swimming Pool Song,” during which the singer imagines herself as a haunted pool. The lyrics are outlandish, proof of the extended boundaries the songwriter’s mind reached for while writing the record.
Looking back on her travels, “The Calendar Song” is melancholic and retrospective. With a slow, repetitive chord progression, Grace reflects on the loss of time over a life quickly lived; “Cross your days off a calendar map,” Grace sings, “how long have you been gone? How long you got left?”
Joyous and light, “Shelter in Place” is a token track Grace wrote during a medical quarantine, but ultimately fits the time now with the pandemic and quarantines put in place all over. Grace explains her songwriting process with “Return to Oz,” an imaginative take on the story of Dorothy, involving an insane asylum and a few other wacky details.
In between tracks off the new record, Grace plays a couple covers from her punk band, Against Me!, including “Joy.” Dedicated to her mother and her “friend, Monica,” the track is a stark contrast to Grace’s solo album, even as she plays it solo. “True Trans Soul Rebel Lyrics,” however, seems to find its true form with the singer’s bare, emotional tone. Her voice is soulful and genuine on the Against Me! song, which details the internal conflicts of trans people.
The most eclectic, punk-style track on Stay Alive is “SuperNatural Possession.” After “Please Leave,” Grace pulls a sheet of notebook paper out of her back pocket, cheekily listing off the names of RSVP viewers behind the screen, giddy and openly thankful for her loyal fanbase.
“Why Kant I Be You?” and “Magic Point” are filled with specific, memory-based lyrics. The latter, Grace explains, is a rumination on the singer’s favorite spot in Chicago. “Why Kant I Be You?” is loving, as the singer belts to the subject of her affection, “If I could be anything but me/ I would be you.”
A funny, timely track on the record is “So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Fuck Off.” The lyrics detail a relationship thrown into the waste bin, but the singer comically dedicates her performance of the song to the upcoming presidential election. The final track on the record, “Old Friend (Stay Alive),” is full of despair. With raspy, cutting vocals, Grace begs a friend to, “Please stay alive/ Please survive.”
Onstage, Stay Alive exposes Grace entirely. She’s imaginative, she’s honest and she’s entirely alone. Re-entering the world following a period of creative insulation, Laura Jane Grace is reminding everyone that she’s alive.