Tag Archives: Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Against Me! Rocks Orlando

Laura Jane Grace of Against Me in Orlando
Laura Jane Grace of Against Me in Orlando

Against Me! Concert Review

Seven years ago, I saw Against Me! tearing up the Amway Center opening for Green Day. Since that powerful night of aggressive alt-rock, the quartet has gone through an immense transition, but through it all, Laura Jane Grace and her bandmates have retained the same energetic thrashing style that drives passionate support from their rabid fans.

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Watching Laura Jane Grace on stage, you see a ferocious rocker who is at peace with where she is headed in her life. With a constant smile plastered to her face, she commanded the stage and had the fans offering up their unconditional appreciation.

The atmosphere in the Beacham Theatre was electric as the band took the stage. The crowd was as diverse as you’ll see at an Orlando event. A mix of heavily tattooed punk rockers, a myriad of fans from the LGBT community, business men and teen girls dotted the audience, many sporting Florida Equality stickers.

Grace and the band took the stage to a rousing welcome and immediately leapt into an explosive “True Trans Soul Rebel.” The track was one of many from the fantastic 2014 release, Transgender Dysphoria Blue, the album that finished atop our 2014 Albums of the Year feature.

Although we heard numerous cuts from that album, we were also treated to a great variety from across the band’s diverse catalogue. Early on Grace offered “We’re playing some songs on this tour we haven’t played in awhile,” and she was true to her word, as the 20+ song set featured music from every stage of the band’s life cycle.

Longtime guitarist James Bowman is still a hard-driving rock to Grace’s left and dished out punk-infused riffs throughout the show. Drummer Atom Willard and Inge Johansson dished out solid rhythm all night. Johansson shined, bouncing around the stage, rhythmically clapping with the crowd and generally having a blast. But, the band is all about Laura Jane Grace, and she was on top of her game this evening. She was fun, raw, engaging and at times humorous, “This guitar doesn’t play well, but it looks great.”

Highlights from the set included two tracks off of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, a killer version of “Unconditional” which Grace introduced with “This song is about self-respect.” And a song she said “is about fighting back,” “Fuck My Life 666.” Some of the earlier cuts that shined on this night included “Don’t Lose Touch,” “I Was A Teenage Anarchist” and a fantastic version of “Black Me Out.”

Laura Jane Grace of Against Me in Orlando
Laura Jane Grace of Against Me in Orlando

The crowd became progressively more energetic as the night wore on and for a handful of songs, turned the floor into a raucous pit with bodies flying as frequently as beer cups. The mixed crowd had a collective blast, dancing, screaming, clapping and re-bonding with Grace. It was clear that this relationship still works exceptionally well.

For the encore, it was just Grace and her guitar for the first few songs. She whispered, “Thanks, this is fun, really fucking fun” and then kicked into “Baby I’m An Anarchist” which quickly became a spirited singalong. Offering up a song for “old and new friends,” she put an acoustic spin on “Thrash Unreal” with the band joining her midway for a rousing and powerful finish, before they wrapped up the night with a smoking version of “We Laugh At Danger (and Break All the Rules).”

Laura Jane Grace is indeed breaking all of the rules and transitioning to a place in her life where she seems much more at peace. It’s a good place for her, and just as importantly for the many satisfied fans in attendance.

Rock On!

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Against Me! – Concert Review

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Against Me!  – Concert Review
01/22/2014 Freebird Live, Jacksonville Beach, FL

I have had the opportunity to see Against Me! a few times over the years.  Never have I seen them in such an intimate setting or on such a cold night.  I took A1A from St. Augustine to Jacksonville Beach and got delayed by what I first thought was a police checkpoint, but would later learn was actually a crime scene.

The county was doing controlled burns and afterwards found human remains among the now black, burned seaside.  Foul-play in such an affluent community?  It’s hard to believe, which only reinforces my assertion that everyone has their own crap to deal with; some are just better at hiding it.  I honestly don’t think that the internet needs another article about the strange, crazy stuff that happens in Florida.  Suffice it to say that the St. John’s County Sherriff’s department is “hot” on the case.  Too soon?

If you’ve never been to Freebird Live at Jacksonville Beach, it’s nestled right across the street from the pavilion and a couple of blocks down from everyone’s favorite Irish pub, Lynch’s.  It has always been a favorite venue of mine for the simple fact that during the summer you can spend a couple hours at the beach prior to the show, and when you hear the sound-checks begin, that’s your cue to change clothes and get in line.  That must be a happy memory from weekends long ago, because this was a Wednesday and it was frigid.  I got there as soon as I could after work, but I’m going to blame the St. Augustine tourists and the A1A crime scene for delaying me to the point where I missed the first band, The Shonds.  Sorry guys, I heard you were great.

When we arrived The Sidekicks were just beginning their set and I don’t think I can say enough good things about these guys.  Hailing from Ohio, The Sidekicks are equal parts My Morning Jacket and Jawbreaker.  The singer/lead guitarist had a stage presence of someone of much more advanced years and his sense of melody left me in awe.  The drummer cracked my friend up with how happy he looked as he banged away at his drums, and she also noticed that the other guitarist had a very far-away look in his eyes as he was playing.  We discussed this after the show for quite a while.  We have never been in touring bands ourselves, but both agreed that sometimes you just can’t help but have stuff on your mind.  A thousand miles from home in a nearly  frozen Florida he could have been cursing the weather, thinking about people back home, or wondering if he locked the door before he left for the tour.   As a side note, I was looking through their Tumblr page and I got all nostalgic for the glory days of the D.I.Y. work ethic in punk rock, which seems to have changed with the rise of social media.  I used to love the collecting show flyers because of the artwork, and it’s something I hope makes a big comeback once it finally gets to the point where it’s cool again.

The evening had a very “school night” vibe to it, and it wasn’t just because of the large number of high school kids in the crowd.  It could have been the 7 o’clock doors, or the 12 and over age designation on the tickets.  Once The Sidekicks finished their set, Against Me! didn’t waste any time coming to the stage.  Thunderous applause came when Laura Jane Grace took the stage, and with very little fanfare, they launched into roughly a fifty minute set.  The set-list was varied and seemed to cover their entire discography.  In the review I did for their new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, (read the review here) I lamented the fact that I would never see Tom Gabel singing “Walking Is Still Honest” again.  I don’t think that I have ever written down a more inconsequential idea in my life.  Laura sang it with all of the intensity and power that the song deserves.  She was all smiles, a mountainous weight lifted from her shoulders, and she seemed to be reveling in the fact that they were back in Florida, just down the road from the city she calls home.

Someone brought a State of Florida flag, which she graciously accepted, and proceeded to drape over the shoulders of guitarist James Bowman.  “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong”, “Sink, Florida, Sink”, “Miami”, “Don’t Lose Touch”, “I Was A Teenage Anarchist”, and so forth and so on, were all covered.  Even if, like me, you thought that New Wave and White Crosses had left something to be desired, the set-list was designed to please.  They played 3-4 songs from Transgender Dysphoria Blues, including “Black Me Out”, “Dead Friend”, and “True Trans Soul Rebel”.  I believe it was during “Drinking With the Jocks” that someone half-heartedly tried to start a mosh pit.  Content not to join in, I set my focus on not getting kicked in the head by crowd surfers, or crushing the 90 lb. 9th graders in the front row.  It was at this point that I noticed that Laura switched guitars due to a broken string.  She handed her roadie her black Rickenbacker to take care of and he handed her an identical guitar right back.  So, yes, she has at least two.  Another side note before I wrap this up.  Against Me! has one of the hardest working roadies I’ve ever seen.  He sound-checks, he tunes, he changes strings, he sets up filming equipment, he shows drunken crowd surfers off the stage (either to the side, or off the way they came), he picks up knocked-over half-stacks, and occasionally he takes a microphone to the face, and he does it with a smile.  I think for having such a relatively thankless assignment, he should receive some recognition.  Thank you, sir.

The band left the stage after saying goodbye, and in typical fashion the crowd didn’t move an inch.  Laura, James, Atom, and Inge came back to the stage and gave us three more songs before calling it a night.  The boys left the stage, but Laura stuck around to shake hands with the crowd and then bid us farewell.  Soaked in sweat, ears ringing, and adrenaline levels still soaring, we were sent back to the cold street, and we walked back to my friend’s apartment.  We looked at pictures, and video, that she had taken for this article, and I fell asleep already thinking ahead to the next time I would get to see Against Me!

A very special thank you to the incomparable Bailey.

Broken Birdie

Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Album Review

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Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

When I was 17, I lived just outside of Jacksonville and began attending my fourth (and final) high school.  I met a cute brunette at a show, and she went to my school.  She was cooler than me, it’s true.  She kept playing this band from Gainesville in the car that I had never heard of before.  The opening song sounded like the beginning to a spaghetti western, and she knew all the words and I didn’t.  That would soon change as I fell head over heels for Against Me! and the girl.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a little background information on what’s happening on this album.  Tom Gabel… I don’t know exactly how to phrase it.  Tom Gabel is not gone, but he’s also not here.  Even the band’s Wikipedia page does not list him under former members.  Let’s dig deeper.

Transgender Dysphoria is defined as a person’s discontent with the sex that they were assigned at birth, and the roles associated with that gender.  Tom Gabel suffers (suffered?) from transgender dysphoria and finally reached a breaking point where something had to give.  So, now Tom Gabel is Laura Jane Grace.  Out of what is seemingly a very complicated situation comes a relatively simplistic solution: tell the people in your life what you are feeling, and make changes accordingly.  Fortunately, Tom has the support of his family, bandmates, and I’m going to assume the majority of his fans as well.

The album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, starts off the same way that Reinventing Axl Rose  does; with a snare drum and Laura banging out chords on that beautiful Rickenbacker semi-hollow body that has inspired bouts of envy from me, time and again, over the years.  Laura’s voice remains unchanged and except for the subject matter, it’s still the same band.  The subject matter is confessional but should not ever be mistaken for an apology.  Laura jumps right into it with the opening track, which has the same name as the album.  “You want them to see you like they see every other girl. They just see a faggot.”  That about sums it up, right? We’re done here? Not quite.  Following the title track is “True Trans Soul Rebel” which is the tune that caught my attention on my drive home this evening and kicked my ass into writing this at one o’clock in the morning.  Laura knows, and always has known, how and when to tug on the heart strings to create the most effective songs and records.  This track has a melancholy feel to it (especially the verses) but when you start paying attention to the words it becomes truly heart-breaking.   “Yet to be born, you’re already dead” would sound cryptic or nonsensical taken out of context, but in the context of this record I think it’s one of the most profound statements Laura makes on the album.

Laura has always inspired quiet, introspective night drives through northeast Florida but as I rolled away from Duval county and picked up speed on the highway, “Two Coffins” punched me right in the nose with a closed fist.  I can’t tell who it is about (Laura’s wife? Her daughter, perhaps?), but that is hardly the point.  The point is that it makes sense to her and she has kindly left enough of a void in the lyrics for a person to insert themselves into the song.  It’s an acoustic song, and it drips with bittersweet longing for the person that she is singing to.  Maybe in my current state of mind I’m just not hearing the lyrics from the right angle and to someone else it would be quite obvious, but right now, tonight, the mystery of the song is part of why it’s one of my favorite tracks on this album.

Immediately following “Two Coffins” is “Paralytic States”, which upon first listen sounds like an up-tempo, feel good song.  Diving deeper into the lyrics you realize that it’s a terrifying account of someone suffering from Transgender Dysphoria, and the lengths to which a human could potentially go when they are unable, or unsure, of how to cope.  Add substance abuse to the mix and you have a really volatile, desperate, hopeless individual on your hands.  Laura said in another article that it came down to a matter of survival for her.  Just reading the lyrics sends a shiver down my spine and I am thankful that when unsatisfied with life she was strong enough to make a change, despite life and potentially relationship-changing implications.  In this instance it seems that there will be a happy ending, but I can’t help but wonder how many others there are in this world that will not arrive at the same destination.

I guess if I could take away one lesson from this album, it’s that things change.  Time changes, people change, places change.  Just like when I got back to Florida and drove down familiar roads only to realize that the people who lived in this house no longer live there, the same thing is happening to every other person in this world.  Maybe they didn’t realize it yesterday, or today, and maybe they won’t tomorrow, but it’s almost guaranteed that at least once in an individual’s life they will realize that the world is changing around them constantly.  The way that I don’t see that girl at shows anymore is the same as why I’ll never see Tom Gabel up on stage again screaming out the lyrics to “Walking Is Still Honest.”  Things change, and that’s okay.

Laura Jane Grace is here to help us keep the music playing.  Transgender Dysphoria Blues is one of the most affecting records I’ve ever heard in my life, and I only covered a handful of the ten tracks.  If you want to hear about, and feel, some really life changing, in your face, gritty stuff happening in someone’s life, please listen.  If you don’t want to feel what another person is feeling why do you listen to music in the first place?

Broken Birdie

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