Singer/songwriter/guitarist Laura Jane Grace's story has been well documented. Long story short, a few years back I was fortunate enough to see her band Against Me!. Then, Ms Grace, was Tom Gabel, a tattooed, post-punk front man. Last night, in front of an energetic, engaged and extremely supportive (and packed) Bowery Ballroom, she was Laura. The tattoos were still evident. The stage presence was still commanding. And unlike her appearance, her voice has not changed a bit!
For years I believed standing on stage, with nothing more than a guitar, microphone and a voice was the most dangerous thing in entertainment. Standup comedy too, but that's a different column. Now, imagine that vulnerability coupled with transitioning from one gender to another? Grace's show last night was the last in a "mini" tour in advance of Against Me!'s upcoming LP, their 6th, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. More specifically it was a celebration of Grace's rebirth and re-introduction to the alt rock community.
She is woman. Hear her roar.
You cannot examine last night's show without acknowledging and appreciating the elephant in the room. Gabel, with Against Me! from 1997-2010, was a shirtless rock star dripping machismo and adrenaline. His songs were/are as alpha as the alt radio stations would get. Had Bon Iver, Mark Foster, or Ben Gibbard changed sexes it might have been easier to comprehend. Those guys represent the prevalent theme that define contemporary "alt"- soft and breezy. Not so with Against Me! They rock a little bit. And judging by the post punk resurgence (Palma Violets, Savages, Parquet Courts to name a few) they clearly served as influences for today's vibe.
The amazing thing about last night was not , however, the music. Don't take that the wrong way. Grace's set was full of high points and, for an acoustic show, was a rocking good time. She played many tracks from the upcoming record. As the albums title suggests, this record is an obvious celebration and cathartic exercise of her "process." Songs like "Fu*k My Life 666"", "Paralytic States of Dependency" as well as the title track, let you know what's been on her mind lately. More specifically, what has been going on her mind forever. Now she is able, and more than willing to get it off her chest.
We all served as witness.
Young men cheered "You're Beautiful!"
They pumped their fists and sang along like you might see at a Dropkicks Murphy show.
Everyone noticed the change. Better than that, everyone ignored it. You know why? It really doesn't matter.
It bodes well for the future and the social issues that seem to divide our country.
Should we be worrying about gay marriage when a city like Detroit goes bankrupt?
How is that drug war going? Is it not better to legalize, tax and dig ourselves out of some economic messes than overcrowd our jails with petty criminals and waste our police forces resources fighting an impossible fight?
Have you looked at what is going on in Egypt? That is some serious shi*t.
Judging by last night, the millenials seem determined to change our priorities. Race, Gender, sexuality... it is inconsequential to the bigger picture.
Hating, or not accepting someone based on those criteria will not add jobs. It will certainly not stop wars. And it will never make the Facebook stock price rise.
There was a lot of love in Bowery Ballroom last night. Strangers were united in accepting someone for who she is. They trusted one another and left any pre-conceived ideas back in the 60, or 80s, or 'Oughts.
An artist continued her ascent and while simultaneously being born again. Each time out, in each new city and venue, she will evolve more. So too will her audience.
Art, the great elixir.
The first act was solo singer Allison Weiss. She gained some notoriety not long ago for using Kickstarter to fund her first album. She raised the money in 10 hours and was the focus of her own New York Times piece documenting the experience. Nice stuff... the songs and the story.
Mina Caputo was the middle act. Caputo too has a huge backstory. She was once Keith and led a heavy metal band called Life of Agony. Now re-invented as a acoustic songstress her set was overlong and underwhelming. Too much of the same slow, looping guitar riffs mixed with shrieking vocals. She came to stage and warned her catalog was sad. "I have a lot different set than Weiss" she said. Too true! It was about 45 minutes of melancholy. Clearly the transition has been far more difficult for Caputo than Grace. Toward the end of the set she lashed out at the crowd. "It's always someone who just won't shut the fu*k up."
It was true, the crowd was chatty during her set. But there was never an effort to pick up the pace. If your act is ALL slow and grief stricken what do you expect? Weiss and Grace were bombastic and ebullient. They celebrated the night, not mourn it. Perhaps in a different context the set would have played better. Seats would probably be a good idea. And no booze.
The crowd was up for anything. Admonish if you will, but be prepared to deliver.