On Valentine’s Day, DC was treated performance by Against Me! front-woman Laura Jane Grace at the 6th & I Historic Synagogue. Backed by Atom Willard, she sat down with an acoustic guitar in front of a music stand, and played stripped down versions of Against Me! songs, pausing between to read entries from her personal journal, going back to the early 2000’s, and telling stories behind the songs.
She opened with Ache With Me, an often derided song from 2010’s White Crosses. This was a fact Grace acknowledged, but in a way where she decided she didn’t care; it was her song, her words, so she was going to open with it. From here, she took it back to the beginning, telling the story behind, and then playing the crowd favorite, Pints of Guinness Makes You Stronger, from 2002’s Reinventing Axl Rose. This is normally the point in the show where the crowd would be going crazy, jumping, shouting along. But we were all seated, in a Synagogue, and the guitar was acoustic, so the crowd quietly sang along with smiles on their faces.
For the rest of the show, Grace preceded each song with a direct reading out of her personal journal, highlighting entries which directly influenced the forthcoming song. She gave an extremely intimate portrait of herself and where she was in life when the songs were written. Many of the entries and songs focused on the period of 2004 and 2007, a time in which the band was being heavily courted by and would eventually sign with a major label, touring heavily, being called sell-outs, and all the while Grace was struggling with gender identity.
These are songs to which fans have listened and sang along for years, never knowing the full story. Hearing the context behind the songs, the direct events and feelings which influenced the songs put them all into a brand new light.
As the timeline moved from the mid-album, major label era, and into the Laura Jane Grace stage of the band, we heard tear-jerking stories of having to remain quiet as others around her were making jokes about transvestites, the decision to attempt to squash her issues and “be a man,” which included getting married and having a daughter, and then the final straw, where she found herself secretly buying women’s clothing, and checking into seedy hotels to wear them, all the while hiding this from her wife. Eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore, and “came out,” making the personal and public decision to go on as Laura rather than Tom.
Grace seemed happy to share these stories with the fans, and even acknowledged that she’s a bit of a narcissist, but nevertheless feels that it is important to get it all out there as a way to perhaps be understood, and help those who may be struggling with similar issues. She shared that she wasn’t necessarily talking about gender issues either; any issues with self-worth, self-doubt, not knowing who one is and being lost in general.
The true highlight of the show was the venue; rather than play a loud bar where fans might be talking over her readings at the bar, she chose to play a historic synagogue, where fans were seated and mostly quiet, save for a few people yelling out requests (despite the fact that it was clear Grace had a rigid set list and chronological method).
The tour currently runs along the East Coast through February 21st, and is a can’t miss for fans of Against Me!