"Who's taking you home tonight?" sings Laura Jane Grace during the very first song of Against Me's eagerly anticipated opening slot for the Cult at T5 Friday night, "True Trans Soul Rebel" she replies on a sparkling new rocker that does the difficult. displaces concepts of dysfunction with axioms on lead singer sexiness. Laura looks amazing in skin tight leggings, a black wife beater and tattoos all over her arms. It's a thrilling sight and the rest of her band give the song a muscular tug, visually the foursome are a blast.
Against Me were an above average for Florida, punk rock band, whose last album, 2011's White Crosses, found tthem good for more than two songs an album. While I blew it off at the time, I went back to the album before the concert and it is a solid effort but it isn't this. Earlier this year Tom Gabel came out as transgendered to first his wife and then to the rest of the world via an interview in Rolling Stone. Tom had always felt like a female in a male body, they form his earliest memories, though he had kept it well hidden as the leader of Testerone fueled, up against the wall political agitprop, tattooed love boys.
Now Laura is taking hormone shots and replacing her fat distribution.
It becomes her.
From the opening song and the quickly followed almost its equal "Transgender Dysphoria Blues", Laura was waiting no time to move past Later, she introduces one of Against Me's best songs, the positively vicious "I Was A Teenage Anarchist" by noting how the song was about "A past life". It's a joyful version but it is a joyful night. The usually reticent Laura, is quite talkative and the sense of occasion grips the hard rocking outfit hard. The third song took the band back six years for "Don't Lose Touch" and it is clear that everything has changed, this is better than the Butch Vig produced recorded version" it is a tight hard placed rocker and the brio always needed from the lead singer is finally there. All the passion Laura sings about makes more sense from a woman, it looks cool and powerful: it is like putting your mind where your mouth is.
And that is the end of thr claim against Against Me!, Tom wasn't a good enough vocalist, there had always been an air of shyness about him. Which may well be why they've never made it all the way for me. Ten years ago they released Reinventing Axl Rose, and the song, the album, is shiockingly good but the sound isn't vicious enough, tonight they play "Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong" and it misses nothing at all.
Plus, Against me! became cool. It's why I'm here and it's why Joan Jett is here as well: Laura announced a cover song. "Not a surprise because I am a transvestite", she isn't, she's transgendered but whatever, "And because I fucking love the Replacements" she said. "But here is the surprise, Joan Jett is gonna sing it with me". The audience seemed a little stunned for a moment before cheering wildly. Joanie came out and though barely more than half Laura's size, she took over the verses on "Androgyny" with Laura and the rest of the band. It was pretty cool and the girls hugged it out at the end.
OK, but I am not blanketly in favor of transgendered operations and here is what gives me pause. I don't think having your penis cut off is a particularly healthy action. From what I've read, men who become women (and vice versa) can still achieve orgasm, and if the man wants children after he comes a woman he can always have his sperm frozen. However, whenever you are dealing in amputation… I can think of nothing more irrevocable. This isn't a moral question, it is a mental health issure. And it is one that should not be available on demand and without serious thought. Laura said she has no problems with it but won't even go to the dentist for a toothache so maybe not.
At some point, maybe as early as the next time I catch Against Me!, this won't be such a central topic of conversation. Maybe we can go back to the band introducing "White Crosses" (she wants to kick them over) as a pro-choice song or "The Ocean" , about not drowning but waving.
It is easily to lose sight that my assessment of the band for the past ten years to have been simply wrong headed because I hadn't seen them live. In a hard rocking, very punk 40 minutes, Against Me made their point and then left it for the next one. And the fans accepted them at face value. Which means, they didn't change overnight. Rather, I heard them badly.
I won't make that mistake again.