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Monday, Dec 22, 2014
Arts & Music

Against Me!’s transgender rocker playing St. Pete, taking risks

By ED CONDRAN
Tribune correspondent

Published:

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During a recent chat with John Lydon, the former leader of the Sex Pistols lamented about how few young rockers take chances. “They play it so safe,” Lydon said. “Just about everyone, including those who are dubbed ‘punk,’ pander to their audiences. They’re very calculating.”

Don’t toss Tom Gabel into that pile. Against Me!’s singer has taken a massive risk. Gabel is now Laura Jane Grace.

Transgender rockers are as rare as modesty at the Grammys. “You have to do what you believe in,” Grace said.

It’s difficult to question that since Against Me!, which formed in Gainesville in 1998, cultivated a burgeoning fan base with its fiery punk-pop. Grace has risked losing that audience by coming out as a transexual woman. What makes Grace’s decision so fascinating is that Against Me! has always had a very masculine, aggressive sound. Grace’s voice has always been deep and powerful.

But Grace made the leap, and Against Me!, which will perform Friday at the State Theatre, continues to deliver visceral punk rock.

In some ways the band has changed but in another manner it hasn’t. Against Me!, which also includes guitarist James Bowman, bassist Inge Johansson and drummer Atom Willard, continues to churn out passionate, urgent songs just like it did when it turned ears with its inspired 2001 debut “Reinventing Axl Rose.” The emotion and conviction remain. It’s all about the music and how it affected Grace’s life.

“Punk rock changed my life,” Grace said. “I wouldn’t be here without it. What it’s all about for me is writing the best songs I can. If people enjoy it, that’s great.”

Against Me! will preview tracks from its forthcoming album “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” at the State Theatre. The album is loaded with candid, raw punk songs inspired by Grace’s courage and metamorphosis.

Grace has taken a huge risk on many levels, and it appears that it has paid on off personally and professionally.

“You have to take chances in order to get anywhere,” Lydon said. “Those who don’t roll the dice, stay exactly where they start. You have to put yourself out there.”

Grace certainly put herself out there and is reaping deserved rewards.

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