It’s curious to note when punk rock stopped smelling like body odor and started smelling like Herbal Essence and dryer sheets. However, the moms waiting outisde Upstate Concert Hall to drive their kids home were more likely the culprits than a suggestion of the lead singer’s change of gender identity.
Florida-based punk-rock band Against Me!, headed by singer and guitarist Laura Jane Grace (formally Tom Gabel), currently are touring to promote their latest album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. The album is an anthem to Grace’s acceptance of a transgendered lifestyle.
Against Me! kicked it off with “FuckMyLife666” from their new album. Although the title of the album implies a blues genre, the music was raced-paced punk rock. One couldn’t help but think Rocky Horror Picture Show at first, but once that passed, it seemed as though not much has changed for Grace other than her estrogen level. Her voice still carriers the surging and gritty tone reflective of Reinventing Axl Rose (2002) and As the Eternal Cowboy (2003).
In addition to the title track of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Against Me! also performed “Dead Friend” and “Black Me Out.” They also played the reggae-inspired “True Trans Soul Rebel” and “Unconditional Love,” a song about being with someone who really cares for you. The transgender theme became apparent in Grace’s lyrics in 2005 with Searching for a Former Clarity. “Pretty Girls” from this album was on the set list. The song is about struggling with transgender dysphoria and the fear of “not being wanted.”
Wailing guitars from Grace and band veteran James Bowman, as well as drum and bass from new members Atom Willard and Inge Johansson, masked most of the heavy themes with a kicking, fast-paced punk-rock sound. The crowd chanted along with the lyrics, fists pumping in the air. Mosh pits developed and occasionally someone, including Grace, would surf across outstretched hands.
The youthful crowd was reflective of the anarchist spirit of “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” where Grace sang, “Do you remember when you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire?” The band played title tracks from albums and EPs including Americans Abroad, Thrash Unreal and New Wave. And they played classics, including “Miami,” also from New Wave.
After the band left the stage, the crowd cheered for an encore and they were greeted with a strong concoction. First was an acoustic solo by Grace of “Baby I’m an Anarchist.” The rest of the band returned to the stage and followed up with “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” and “Sink, Florida, Sink.”
Against Me! might be experimenting with new lifestyles, new recording material and new band members, but they still play energy-fueled punk rock. Even though they are in a stage of transition and self-reflection, they know where they came from and know that their fans still love the old hits.