By Julia Simon
October 20, 2017
It’s impossible to talk about anarcho-punk-turned-rock band Against Me! without speaking about transgender frontwoman Laura Jane Grace’s transition. And that’s exactly how she’d have it – few people have transitioned so publicly, bravely and eloquently as she. From candid interviews on late night TV to her recently released memoir, Tranny, Grace speaks her truth unapologetically, and the Gainesville, Florida four-piece’s catalog serves as a record of her journey. We learn about gender dysphoria and the havoc it wreaked on her childhood (“Searching For a Former Clarity”), the changes it brought to her relationships as an adult (“We’re Breaking Up”), and her struggle to become a beacon of hope for transgender youth, a population with the highest attempted suicide rate in the country.
Shape Shift With Me, the album that brought this year’s tour to Charlotte’s Neighborhood Theater Wednesday night, weaves the angst of past memories with a feeling of angry self-assurance and triumph. Opening act The Dirty Nil started the evening with anthemic, wall-shaking sound; their song “Wrestle Yü to Husker Dü” got the crowd bouncing. Second opener Bleached took the stage in decidedly ‘80s pop-punk style. Frontwoman Jennifer Clavin, formerly of Mika Miko, never stood still, frenetically belting out song after song, including a cover of The Misfit’s “Skulls” that got an enthusiastic response.
As the lights came up and Against Me! took the stage, Grace’s face was obscured by her long, red locks.The crowd surged to older hits like “Walking Is Still Honest” and “Miami.” They sang along and pumped arms as Grace and bass guitarist Inge Johansson (Dee Dee Ramone’s long-lost twin, it seemed) danced along the stage’s perimeter, encouraging the stage divers to sing with them. Acceptance and positivity ruled the night. The feeling was punctuated by Grace’s dedication of the song “True Trans Soul Rebel” to “anyone and everyone who feels uncomfortable in their own skin.” The set paused for a moment before they covered Tom Petty’s, “Running Down A Dream” and Grace noted that she first bought a Rickenbacker because “that’s what Tom Petty played.” Their begrimed, speedy version of the track got the rowdy crowd singing in unison, a much needed remedy for our recent loss and sweetly gratifying to behold.
Whether you’re a new listener or a long-time fan of Against Me!, Wednesday night’s show proved their ability to drastically transform and still hold true to their punk roots. After a career spanning over two decades, Grace’s vocals sound more poignantly human and angrier than ever before. Her use of pop, label-friendly punk as a platform to demand acceptance of her life and the lives of others like her is precisely the type of role modeling we need in punk now, and forever.
Check out remaining 2017 tour dates for Against Me!.