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2024.05.08 - Laura Jane Grace - NonComm 24

Every year it seems like there can’t be a better time for Laura Jane Grace’s music than now. The fiercely political punk has been making music for well over twenty years now, but in 2024, the courage she has to confront bigotry and oppression in her music is nothing short of essential. The first performer at the NON-COMMvention’s Free at Noon series, Grace kicked off her set with “SuperNatural Possession,” a track from her new record, Hole In My Head. It’s the perfect song for Grace to show off both her talents as a frontwoman and the talents of the rest of her backing band, The Mississippi Medicals; Grace and her partner Paris Campbell Grace showed off their excellent vocal interplay, while bassist Matt Patton (of Drive-By Truckers and Model Citizen fame) and drummer Mikey Erg held down an impeccable groove. Like the best Laura Jane Grace songs, I wasn’t sure whether to dance, scream, or cry – for the remainder of the set, I was doing some mix of all three.

A lot of Grace’s songs were new cuts – including the second track of the set, “Mercenary,” a slower (but no less ferocious) track that, again, made the most of the band’s four-vocalist setup, the rest of the band whispering Grace’s lyrics back to her as she sang them. Given that her music has always been rooted in oi! punk, it only makes sense for Grace’s songs to be decorated with gang vocals; what separates Grace from her contemporaries (and her predecessors) is her talent for writing punk vocal arrangements. Nothing is ever too complicated to keep the audience from screaming along, but the sheer catchiness of every vocal melody – whether it’s being sung by either of the Graces, Patton, or Erg – proves that Grace knows her way around a pop song.

Case in point; the surprising appearance in the tracklist of “Thrash Unreal,” a song by Grace’s previous project, Against Me!, that dates all the way back to 2007. It’s sometimes disheartening to see your favorite musicians perform songs so old, especially if they’re as legendary as Grace; rarely can they do them justice. Laura Jane Grace is an exception and a half. Playing to a room of fans chanting the song’s earworm of a chorus back at her, Grace sounded more passionate than ever, her voice having aged like a fine wine – or perhaps more appropriately for a punk legend, a fine PBR.

For her last song, The Mississippi Medicals left the stage. Laura Jane Grace made a crack about tuning her guitar and played “Dysphoria Hoodie” solo singer-songwriter style. It’s a darkly funny cut about something most trans women know well – the experience of wearing baggy, unpretentious clothing in hopes not to attract any unwanted attention. Punctuating the humor of the track was Grace’s outfit on stage; belting out the song’s instantly-memorable chorus, “When it says Adidas on my chest / all day long I dream of sex / when I’m not thinking about Jesus,” Grace was sporting an Adidas tank top which, rather than concealing her body, showed off her tattooed figure. Amidst waves of legislation attempting to censor trans artists, there’s something about seeing Laura Jane Grace laugh in the face of both systemic transphobia and gender dysphoria. No matter how angry her songs get, she sings them with a massive smile on her face. It’s inspiring. If she can handle everything the world is throwing at us, maybe the rest of us can, too.

Setlist
May
08
Laura Jane Grace
NON-COMM 2024
  • SuperNatural Possession
  • Mercenary
  • Birds Talk Too
  • Thrash Unreal
  • Hole In My Head
  • Dysphoria Hoodie
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