Laura Jane Grace may once have been a teenage anarchist, but it’s difficult to imagine a time when she was given to convenient politics. Yes, she’s still talking about a revolution. And as headliners go, few bands to play the stage at Lille Vega have been more mainstream than Against Me!, which underwent a personnel change in the wake of last year’s excellentTransgender Dysphoria Blues. Yet Grace has always valued experience over pretense, knowing full well that “making yourself up as you go along” is what killed punk music in the first place. Sometimes though, you have to depend on a bit of both to put on a good show.
Grace heads up centerstage with longtime fellow guitarist James Bowman to her left. To her right is Inge Johansson, former bassist of The (International) Noise Conspiracy, and in the back is Atom Willard, former drummer and founding member of Angels & Airwaves. On the opener “True Trans Soul Rebel”, the chorus blares like an emergency signal, calling all cars: “Who’s gonna take you home tonight/ Who’s gonna take you home?” They play it true to the record, sounding out all the hooks with the conviction of a band playing from the heart.
It’s admirable that this clean cut approach actually helps emphasize the vulnerability in Grace’s songwriting. In the dozen or so years since Reinventing Axl Rose, Grace has retained a keen sense of self that helps make the music of Against Me! as challenging as it is accessible—you don’t simply sing along to a line like “You’ve got no cunt in your strut/ You’ve got no hips to shake” without feeling the sting of those words. Still the crowd is right there, showing their recognition by singing along on the big numbers with outstretched arms.
Between songs it’s all grins. It’s not unusual that a band should want everyone to have fun, but with Against Me! there seems to be a deeper appreciation for the need to feel good. When she’s on, Grace is a storm, angled toward the mic like a hood ornament, each word a gale unto itself. Even if sometimes giving it your all is “Cliché Guevara”, it’s inspiring to feel that a person has taken full ownership over who she is. And for a band to share that with a room full of people is a hot kindness that makes us all feel good.
(Press photo by Ryan Russel)