Against Me! and the Return of Florida's Prodigal Daughter at Culture Room

"Let's jump right into some existential dread, shall we?" Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace laughed at Culture Room this past Tuesday night.

The band was joined by sunny California act Bleached and Canadian hard-rock group the Dirty Nil.

The crowd was composed of Against Me! fans of yore — you know, dudes in NOFX shirts — as well as Broward moms with nose rings, and the newer crop of teenagers and millennials with buzzed undercuts and rainbow hair. The moshing was instantaneous. It was a punk show after all, and men in the scene will find a way to take up space even while Grace sings about male socialization and gender dysphoria in conversation with her femininity.

In 2012, Grace began her hypervisible transition when she came out as transgender. Since the release of 2014's explosive Transgender Dysphoria Blues, her subsequent work, such as her memoir released last year and 2016's Shape Shift With Me, concerns her life-long struggle with dysphoria and the ways in which her decision to come out publicly have affected her personal and professional life.

Though Grace has been characteristically, brutally honest about the negative fallout of her transition offstage, last night she couldn't stop smiling. Her gratitude flowed off the stage. In a sea of sweat, spilled beer, and elbows, her quiet recognition was overwhelming.

Against Me! and the Return of Florida's Prodigal Daughter at Culture RoomEXPAND
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg

"I want to send this out to anyone here who, for whatever reason, doesn't feel at home in their body," Grace said in introducing "Transgender Dysphoria Blues." She appeals to those who feel alienated, lost, and aimless. "I feel that way 99 percent of the time," she said. "The 1 percent of the time I don't feel that way is onstage, with you."

The NOFX dudes and colorful teens cheered, and the show momentarily gave way to the radically caring, even wholesome side of punk that differentiates good bands from important ones. "For the next three minutes with you, I want to push away the fucking garbage can that is reality," she said.

Her repetition of "with you" reflected the communal spirit of Grace's music that makes Against Me! a refuge for so many listeners. She sang, "Rough surf on the coast/I wish I could have spent the whole day alone with you/With you."

Her mixed feelings about Florida emerged as well. The crowd went nuts over "Sink, Florida, Sink" and the vitriolic "Miami." Grace, who grew up in Naples, remembers being 7 or 8 years old when she received her first Tom Petty album from her dad. She was inspired to play in "shitty grunge cover bands playing Tom Petty covers" when she was 12. She would later move to Gainesville, Petty's hometown, and create Against Me!, she told the crowd before delivering a gentle yet angst-soaked cover of "Runnin' Down a Dream."

Against Me! and the Return of Florida's Prodigal Daughter at Culture RoomEXPAND
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg

Her first encore was a solo, acoustic rendition of the Mountain Goats' "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton," a simple song whose triumphant battle cry of "Hail, Satan!" immortalizes two teenagers, Jeff and Cyrus, scorned by adults for pursuing their great passion of death metal. The song is about a small town in west Texas, but Grace, growing up a lower-class outcast in Naples, identifies with Jeff and Cyrus.

"As far as I'm concerned, this song could be 'The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Naples, out of Bradenton, out of Fort Myers, out of Fort Lauderdale, out of Miami,'" she smiled. "Here it is: 'The Best-Ever Death Metal Band out of South Florida."

Grace and her bandmates are wholly unconcerned with the fans who stayed home last night — the ones who cried "sellout" after the band's major-label deal in 2007 or those who refuse to accept Grace's transition. While Against Me! has firmly remained a postpunk institution for almost two decades, its fan demographics have grown more diverse. It is about survival.

"We do what we do to get by," the crowd yelled along with Grace during "Thrash Unreal," the band's most popular song. It's a sad one, but she was smiling. "No mother ever dreams that her daughter's going to grow up to sleep alone," she beamed.

Grace has made her career in music about dying all the time yet surviving to triumphantly tell the tale. Florida's prodigal daughter's greatest gift continues to be making loneliness feel like a party.

"Growing up here... this shit is beyond my wildest dreams."

Against Me! will also play the Fest in Gainesville this week.

Set list:
- "True Trans Soul Rebel"
- "I Was a Teenage Anarchist"
- "ProVision L-3"
- "From Her Lips to God's Ears (The Energizer)"
- "Miami"
- "New Wave"
- "Up the Cuts"
- "Jordan's First Choice"
- "Walking Is Still Honest"
- "Haunting, Haunted, Haunts"
- "Delicate, Petite & Other Things I'll Never Be"
- "Runnin' Down a Dream" (Tom Petty cover)
- "Unconditional Love"
- "Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious..."
- "333"
- "Rebecca"
- "Transgender Dysphoria Blues"
- "The Ocean"
- "Bamboo Bones"
- "Reinventing Axl Rose"
- "Black Me Out"
- "Thrash Unreal"

Encore:
- "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton" (Mountain Goats cover)
- "Two Coffins"
- "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong"
- "Baby, I'm an Anarchist!"
- "Sink, Florida, Sink"
- "We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)"

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