Photo by PETE TROSHAK
Ever since he was young Against Me! singer Tom Gabel had a secret: he suffered from gender dysphoria, meaning that while he was outwardly male, he self-identified as female (for more on this see here.) Gabel suffered through 15 years of living a dual life in Against Me!. By day he was a standard-bearer of punk cred in a macho and insular hardcore scene, performing upwards of 200 shows a year. By night, after the show back at the hotel room, lonely but free at last, he would cross dress. In 2012 Gabel made the courageous decision to transition in public from male to female via hormone therapy. Goodbye Tom Gabel, hello Laura Jane Grace, a change that triggered the defection of Against Me!’s rhythm section. Undaunted, Grace and a reconstituted Against Me! recorded and released the extraordinary Transgender Dysphoria Blues and hit the road.
Tuesday night at the Trocadero, Against Me! version 2.0 delivered a triumphant and emotion-packed 23-song blitz through the band’s history, kicking off with the self-flagellating “Fuckmylife666.” Amid a hail of jangling power chords and galloping drums the towering, tattooed and striking Grace delivered her mantra, singing “Don’t want to live without teeth/Don’t want to die without bite” and “No more troubled sleep/there’s a brave new world that’s raging inside of me.” Next Grace slashed out the opening notes of “Cliché Guevara” on her jet black Rickenbacker, bringing a seismic roar from the crowd that planted a huge, Cheshire Cat smile on Grace’s face that remained the rest of the show. That Against Me! classic ignited the crowd, turning the floor of the century old venue into a sweaty sea of pogo-ing bodies, each one seemingly singing along word-for-word. Grace was joined as always by her longtime friend and perpetual Against Me! member James Bowman. Bowman barked backup vocals and displayed some impressive guitar playing while the new rhythm section — ex-Rocket From The Crypt drummer Atom Willard and bassist/Dee Dee Ramone doppelganger Inge Johansson — provided a tight and powerful foundation.
Highlights from their current album included the dazzling Bowie-meets-The-Beatles power pop of “Unconditional Love” and Grace talking about “cutting assholes out” of her life before delivering a raging “Black Me Out.” The old stuff was spectacular too. Grace teased the crowd with some guitar work that sounded like it was from a spaghetti western and a snippet of “Stairway to Heaven” before delivering an apocalyptic “Miami” that shook the foundations of the venue. Against Me! closed their main set with “The Ocean” from New Wave, the closest that Grace as Gabel ever came to being true about her gender identity pre-transition. Live the song was pure exorcism — a taut, emotional four minutes with some stunning cathartic guitar work from both Grace and Bowman that drove away some of the old ghosts and pain. The band then left the stage, only to be lured back by the sound of 1,200 fans stomping their feet and screaming “Against Me!” over and over. They encored with a shambling and beautifully chaotic “Sink, Florida, Sink,” with the entire crowd screaming “You got to fuck it up!” in unison as empty plastic water bottles and crowd-surfing punks competed for available airspace. Fittingly, the night ended with another Against Me! standard, “We Laugh At Danger (And Break All the Rules).” Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! aren’t just breaking all the rules though, they are rewriting them with blood, sweat and the redemptive power of rock ‘n’ roll.— PETE TROSHAK