When I got to the Sinclair on Wednesday night, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I’d never been to the venue before (there’ve been a variety of reasons why I ended up missing every show I’ve wanted to go to there), and I had no idea what Laura Jane Grace’s new project was about. I’ve seen Against Me! a handful of times since I discovered them as a baby punk in 2010, but they’ve all been full band shows. I’d never seen Laura do a solo performance, and any Google searches for her new band, The Devouring Mothers, came up empty. To top it all off, I hadn’t yet checked out the support act, David Dondero. My only real expectation for the show was that Laura would be amazing, and she certainly did not disappoint.
David Dondero, a friend of Laura’s since they’d played a show together in a laundromat in the ’90, was the only supporting act for the show .He began nearly every song with a story, showing his wry sense of humor with a deadpan expression. His guitarwork was impressive, switching easily from delicate fingerpicking to chugging, distorted riffs. While his musicianship was great, I found his lyrics a little lacking. Nearly every song came with some sort of gimmick, and for comedic songs, like “Not Everyone Loves Your Doggie Like You Do,” it worked. For others, like “My God Is Math,” the comparisons seemed a little forced lyrically. Even so, David Dondero managed to rouse the crowd, his song “The New Berlin Wall” about the state of US immigration policies, proving to be a crowd favorite.
Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers came to the stage, dressed in the typical all-black and surrounded by beautiful string lights. The band consists of Atom Willard, also of Against Me!, on drums, and Marc Hudson, an audio recordist and studio owner who is currently working with Against Me! on their next album, on bass. Laura, of course, took the helm on lead vocals and acoustic guitar.
Early in the set, Laura explained that this show wouldn’t be like regular Against Me! shows, where the band speaks very little and segues quickly from one song to the next. She announced that she is currently working on a book based on journals she’s kept since she started touring. Many of these journals outline her struggles with gender dysphoria – feelings she had kept a secret from everyone around her until she came out publicly as a transgender woman in 2012. In addition to playing subdued versions of Against Me! songs, the set was interspersed with stories from Laura’s life and readings from her journals. Often, entries would feed into songs, becoming spoken word performances with the instrumental help of the Devouring Mothers. One particularly beautiful moment was when Laura was reading about recording the song “The Ocean” in the studio with her band, and trying to explain away some “weird” lyrics as stream of consciousness writing while high, which immediately segued into the lyrics themselves:
If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman.
My mother once told me she would have named me Laura.
I would grow up to be strong and beautiful like her.
One day I’d find an honest man to make my husband.
The audience was incredibly receptive to the new show format, cheering at moments of triumph and singing along to the mellowed out versions of their favorite punk songs. “Sink Florida Sink” was a particular favorite, with a call and response of “Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh” echoing throughout the venue. “Joy,” from 2005’s Searching For a Former Clarity, was a personal favorite of mine during the set. When I first discovered the band, I had assumed I would probably never hear it live. In addition to Against Me! songs, the set featured a few covers, including Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin'” and The Replacements’ “Androgynous”-a song which Laura said she once presented to a record company on a demo, and was told was “the best song [she’d] ever written,” despite the fact that the company had released the Replacements album it came from.
When the show was over, I walked out into the frigid night and stood in awe for a while. I’ve never gone to a bad Against Me! show; I don’t think one of those could really exist. However, there was something special about this evening. Hearing the bare bones version of some of my favorite songs, acoustic pieces I thought I’d never get to hear alongside the rousing punk anthems, being surrounded by twinkling lights and a captive audience listening to the stories of a woman who struggled and overcame – that was something really beautiful that I’m not sure could be replicated. There’s nothing like 500-some-odd people singing along to “True Trans Soul Rebel” to restore your faith in the world.