Against Me! singer-guitarist Tommy Gabel made her live debut as Laura Jane Grace on Friday, performing with the band under her new name for the first time since coming out as transgender.
Charging through a 40-minute set at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay in San Diego – the first stop in a month-long U.S. tour with British rockers the Cult – the quartet played six new songs, including the rollicking anthem "Transgender Dysphoria Blues," the title track of an album they're working on. Decked out in a loose-fitting black tank top, tight black jeans and black eye shadow, Grace was in high spirits as she delivered her trademark, throat-shredding screams.
"I was worried that some people expected me to come out looking like Little Bo Peep or something," Grace said after the show while hanging out at the merch table with her wife, Heather. (They're doing the tour as a family; their toddler daughter, Evelyn, was sleeping with a nanny in the tour bus.)
Though Grace says she's open to having a dialogue about her transition with fans, she kept stage banter to a minimum and never brought up her coming out or new name in between songs. Since many of the concertgoers were Cult fans who weren't familiar with Against Me!, the show wasn't exactly ideal for a punk-rock heart-to-heart.
For his part, longtime fan Jimmy Gomez, 23, doesn't think Grace needs to explain anything.
"She did it for herself, not for anybody else. This is about her," he said. "She's doing something she really loves now and she's really happy – that's really awesome."
Thanks to the outdoor venue's seating arrangements, a mosh pit never did break out during the set, but a handful of fans got up to sing along. When Grace belted out the lines to "The Ocean," a revealing track from the band's 2007 album New Wave – "If I could have chosen / I would have been born a woman" – fans broke into cheers and applause.
"I really support her in being able to come out to everyone," said Maddie Leyland, 18. "I'm excited to see what happens to the band, too, what they all do with it."
Grace is two weeks into hormone replacement therapy. The process involves redistribution of her body's muscle mass, and she was worried about how it would affect her stamina. The band talked before the show about taking some time between songs, but they ended up just powering through the set. The only problem Grace encountered was her guitar cutting out during one song.
While the band spanned its discography with classics like "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong" and "I Was a Teenage Anarchist," much of the set was devoted to new songs: "Osama bin Laden as the Crucified Christ," "Dead Friend," "True Trans Soul Rebel," "Drinking with the Jocks" and "Black Me Out."
Though some fans at the concert wondered how the hormones would affect Grace's voice, Eryn Ramynke, 22, looks forward to any changes that may come. Really, the only issue that seemed to concern her was the venue's many plastic chairs.
"This is crazy," she said. "I didn't know Against Me! played places that had seats."