I’ve spent the better part of a few consecutive, bleary-eyed days trying to find the right words to encapsulate the experience that was witnessing trailblazing Against Me! bandleader Laura Jane Grace and her Devouring Mothers backing band (AM! drummer Atom Willard and longtime producer/tour manager Marc Jacob Hudson on drums and bass, respectively) take over the Sinclair nightclub in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last week. It would be rather easy, although somewhat cheap from a journalistic standpoint, to bandy about descriptors like “captivating” or “spellbinding” or “haunting” or “cathartic” or “charming,” and each of those words is entirely appropriate, but they don’t really do appropriate justice. Perhaps the best choice would be, in the original, truest sense of the word, “awesome,” as in literally inspiring awe in the eyes of the beholder.
For those unfamiliar with this brief run of shows that are book-ended around a landmark appearance at Lincoln Center in Manhattan, Grace is performing stripped-down versions of Against Me! classics and deeper cuts, with a few noteworthy covers thrown in for good measure (Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” being perhaps the most curious, though it certainly fit. Rather than plow through the set in mercurial, anarchic fashion as Against Me! would on a normal night, this evening paid more attention to vibe and atmosphere. You see, Grace is also in the final stages of writing a book, culled primarily from tour journals from the life of her band. As such, the breaks between most songs were peppered with readings from those journals in roughly chronological order, providing occasionally humorous (buying women’s clothing at a local Sears in the early days because nobody shops at Sears), occasionally dark (tales of despair and suicidal ideations abound), frequently captivating insight and context new Against Me! material new and old.
The punk scene has long held obvious attraction for those that felt they were outcasts, or different, or just plain didn’t fit in. And yet, it also has a funny way of eating its own young; of shunning people who are a little “too different,” or “too weird” or “too not normal.” Some of Grace’s journal entries hinted at such things, particularly as she was struggling with early feelings associated with gender identity issues. So perhaps one of the more poignant, and seemingly unscripted, moments of the evening found Grace commenting on how surreal it was to have a rather diverse cross-section of 500+ punk rockers cheering loudly in support of gender identity issues, shouting “God bless your transsexual heart!” in unison. For those 500+ people in attendance on this night, and I’m assuming on the remaining dates on the brief tour in general, the evening will surely rank as one of those benchmark concert-going moments that most other concerts are held up against.
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