Published on April 2nd, 2014 | by Adrien Begrand0
Concert Review: Saskatoon – Against Me!
Adrien Begrand looks at what has changed, and what has stayed the same for Against Me! reviewing their recent live show at Louis’ in Saskatoon.
The constraints of a genre as unfortunately masculine-dominated as rock have to be unimaginably frustrating for a musician trying to deal with gender dysphoria. As the years go by though, the more people learn about the condition, the more aware folks are, the easier it is for those in the guitar-oriented scenes — be it rock, punk, or metal — to accept and embrace diversity, not to mention respect the choices transgender artists make. Former King Kobra singer Marcie Free, former Life of Agony singer Mina Caputo, and Cretin frontwoman Marissa Martinez are all notable examples of fairly well known artists who have made that brave choice, but it was when Against Me! leader Tom Gabel came out as a woman and changed her name to Laura Jane Grace in 2012 that more mainstream audiences started to take serious notice. Never before had a rock musician of that high profile and popularity come out as transgender, which inevitably led to the question, how would the band’s new music be accepted?
All Against Me! did was release ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ in January, a triumphant album that sees Grace confronting her identity head-on, and in the process making Against Me!’s music feel more impassioned and driven than ever before. Raw, emotional, and eloquent, it’s the band’s best work since the 2007 breakthrough ‘New Wave,’ and the force and poetry of that new material proved to be the highlight of a searing performance at Louis’ Pub in Saskatoon on a late March evening.
Backed by longtime collaborator and guitarist James Bowman, former International Noise Conspiracy bassist Inge Johansson, and ace drummer Atom Willard (of Rocket From the Crypt and Danko Jones notoriety), Grace led the charge through a rampaging, 20-odd song, 75-minute set in front of a lively and loving crowd of several hundred, many of whom shouted lyrics with liturgical fervor. Spanning the band’s entire career, the songs offered a good glimpse of Against Me!’s metamorphosis from punk upstarts to rock crossover success story: ‘I Still Love You Julie,’ ‘Cliché Guevera,’ ‘Miami,’ ‘Don’t Lose Touch,’ and ‘I Was a Teenage Anarchist.’ Predictably, the band’s two biggest hits, ‘New Wave’ and the irresistible ‘Thrash Unreal’ (the latter one of the most ebullient rock singles of the last ten years) got the biggest responses. Sounding tight and tense, ferocity offset perfectly by melody, it was an extraordinary, high-energy performance that didn’t let up, Grace clearly moved by the positive reception but keeping the chatter to the barest minimum.
As good as the older material was, the selections from ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ absolutely scorched. ‘FUCKMYLIFE666,’ ‘Unconditional Love,’ ‘Dead Friend,’ ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues,’ and the powerful ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ were not only rock n’ roll at its most exuberant and catchy, but coming from Grace, whose own experience fueled the concept album’s story, it packed an even bigger punch than usual. “You should’ve been a mother,” she sang. “You should’ve been a wife, you should’ve been gone from here years ago, you should be living a different life.”
As coincidence would have it, on the day Grace and Against Me! played this city, the pink, blue, and white flag was raised at City Hall in commemoration of Trans Awareness Week. If you wanted the best indication of acceptance of transgendered people, all you had to see was the insane, genuinely happy mosh pit during the crazed, three-song encore of ‘Pints of Guinness Make You Strong,’ ‘Drinking With the Jocks,’ and ‘We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules).’ By being true to herself Laura Jane Grace has emerged a stronger, more vital artist than ever, and her throngs of fans have remained right by the band’s side. Bless her transsexual heart.