The O-town Scene

March 07, 2014

The O-town Scene - Oneonta, NY

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A10 A10 Concert Review On a Monday night in February, students packed the front sections of the Hunt Union Ballroom as if for a mandatory orientation event. The difference was that the buzzing crowd clearly wanted to be there. SUNY Oneonta's very welcome guest on past Feb. 10 was Laura Jane Grace, front-woman for the Gainesville, Florida group of punk- rockers collectively known as Against Me!. Their album "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" surfaced in all its freeing, infectious fury on Jan. 21. "Hi everyone," an open, friendly Grace said as she sat down to talk with Elliot Ruggles, director of the Gender and Sexual- ity Resource Center at SUCO. She wore a black shirt that read "Buy Me Brunch" in white letters with a crude sketch of a cartoon gun. For an event that was free to students, these terms seemed fair. Tattoos ran down her arms in thick, dark ribbons. Soft light hit the left side of the stage, catching the edges of a furled American flag. Ruggles was the well-prepared prime-time host for an event that began at about 9 p.m. He opened with a question about another, more prominent talk show. Against Me! had just been the musical guests on "Late Night With David Letterman," singing their jangly juggernaut of a single (whose title, abbrevi- ated as "FML666," cannot be printed here) to ring in the arrival of their sixth record. Grace conveyed the surreal feeling of be- ing "right next to the house band, right next to the host," and said song selection had really come down to which one featured the most CBS-friendly lyrics — "with the excep- tion of the title," she added. Asked if her experience at the Letterman show had been a "supported" one, Laura was quick to observe: "It's New York City — they're not impressed." Grace started the band back in 1997 when she was still Tom Gabel; the recording of "Dysphoria Blues" spanned her process of opening up about being transgender. She shared recollections about identifying with Madonna, and Mia Farrow's character in "Rosemary's Baby," while growing up. "My earliest memories are of gender dysphoria," she said at one point. When Ruggles asked who some of her transgender role models might be, Grace winningly produced an entire list. She mentioned tennis athlete Renee Richards, film score writer Wendy Carlos, and Electric Chairs lead singer Jayne County, before citing Pvt. Chelsea Manning as "one of my total heroes." Disturbing stories of discrimination still accumulate for her; she related a freshly depressing encounter with TSA agents while en route to Oneonta. But Grace's gender identity is far from the whole of her unique perspective. She also conveys the tenacity and passion of a musician who started her own band when she was only 17. Following her "interesting experience" with the Warner Brothers label, she funded "Blues" indepen- dently, and champions the attitude of "being willing to play, no matter what." Laura proved herself true to this philoso- phy as she took up her acoustic guitar and proceeded to tear through several songs. "I've had bronchitis for the last month," she explained, although her strong voice pretty much belied this apology. There were mo- ments where she coughed, but her determi- nation and talent kept fighting back. If there was any worry, it was that Against Me!'s punk-rock voltage would be muted by a solo, "Unplugged" performance. But Grace's songs came through bright, clear and often newly alive. "A song should always be a changing, growing thing," she had told Ruggles during their interview. "Don't want to live without teeth/Don't want to die without bite," she incisively roars in "FML666"; fitting lyrics for a singer armed with a singular performing ferocity as well as an appealing smile. Throughout the night, Grace was coura- geously, sometimes even painfully, genuine. "So the statistic is that 41 percent of trans- gender people attempt suicide," she said between songs, before frankly including herself in that number. A projected image of the singer loomed behind the actual person, unbeknownst to her until late in her set. "I did not realize that I was back there," a focused, unassuming Grace confessed. When one stray lyric escaped her, a trusting Grace turned to her audience for assistance; a fan dutifully shouted it out, like a student hurrying to answer his favorite pro- fessor. This spring-loaded devotion elicited laughter and applause from an electric crowd, which rose in standing ovation as Grace closed with "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong" from Against Me!'s first full- length album. Anyone leaving the Hunt Union afterward made their way around an enormous line; Grace had said that she hoped to hang out with fans after the show, and a serpentine throng of supporters were all there, patiently waiting to meet her. Against Me! Singer Bares Soul At SUNY Oneonta By Sam Benedict 10 O-Town Scene March 6, 2014 ! "#$ %&' %%%()) *+,- .$ /0, 1- 2)3 $ 4451 6*%% 2)37$ 8%9:- +!5 111:;!: )<((5 Laura Jane Grace, center, is seen with her Against Me! bandmates in this undated publicity photo. GET INTO THE SCENE Want to write a review of a great show, exhibit or other event? Want to have your event or your photos featured in the O-Town Scene? Contact editor Emily Popek at epopek@ or call 432-1000, ext. 217

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