Against Me!’s vocalist and founder, Tom Gabel, told Rolling Stone last month that he’d recently gone to a band meeting and informed his bandmates that he was in the process of becoming a woman. Tuesday at the Fillmore, the Florida-based quartet made its first local appearance since Gabel publicly disclosed his lifelong bout with gender dysphoria and began his transition from frontman to frontwoman. Absent the singer’s sex change, it was business as usual for the angst-rock combo.
Gabel also took on a new, more gender-appropriate name: Laura Jane Grace. Grace keeps her hair longer than Gabel kept his and wears heeled boots, earrings and nail polish. But her outfit was far butchier than anything the New York Dolls or Steven Tyler wore onstage in the early 1970s. And on tunes such as “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” and “Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists,” she sang/screamed with all the power and anger that Gabel flaunted.
Old lyrics come off differently since the singer has changed genders. But one example: A staple of Against Me! shows, “Thrash Unreal,” found Grace shrieking about a wild girl using rock and roll to escape life’s demons. “There’s no one who can stop her!” she sang.
The room was loaded with catharsis throughout the 40-minute set, particularly during “Don’t Lose Touch,” a tune about the sincerity of modern rock that featured the sort of crowd-friendly “whoa-oh-ohs!” you’d find at a Springsteen show. (Against Me!’s drummer Jay Weinberg has regularly appeared with the E Street Band when his father, Max Weinberg, can’t make a gig.)
But Grace is now prohibited from getting as liberated onstage as her old self could. Maryland law still prohibits women from taking their shirts off in public the way Gabel so often did.
McKenna is a freelance writer.