Laura Jane Grace precedes tour with intimate show

By James Firkins

Laura Jane Grace steps onto the stage to rapturous applause. Then, a silence hushes the room as she picks up her guitar—a gloss-black Rickenbacker—and begins to tune. “Tuning is a European luxury,” she says to modest laughter. The crowd is patient, though, because she will undoubtedly offer something incredible in just a few short moments.

Grace is the lead singer of Floridian band Against Me!, which she started in the late ’90s. She publicly announced her gender transition in 2012—a process she explores through a documentary series titled “True Trans;” an autobiography titled “Tranny: Confessions Of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout;” and 2014’s critically acclaimed album called Transgender Dysphoria Blues, featuring the astounding track “True Trans Soul Rebel.” She’s an unashamed, unapologetic inspiration.

Known for incredible folk-punk, Grace ‘s music is angry, upset with the status quo, and possesses a riotous activism–surely an identity at odds with the overwhelming bourgeois vibe of City Winery, 1200 W, Randolph. Yet, any doubts about her punk credentials were immediately quashed the moment she began to sing.

Her voice cuts past the bone and somehow reaches the self, projecting with such passion and honesty, it is almost as if she is personally asking every hair to stand to attention. The crowd validated her in both capacity and response. Grace could have chosen not to sing, and every lyric would have found its way into the air by way of the impassioned and supportive spectators who knew her tunes by heart.

The show was a “pre-tour solo performance,” and though Grace was without her band, nothing was lost as the crowd picked up the mantle, singing the backing vocals with vigor. The show was truly a candid testament to the communal power of folk music.

At one point she messed up, forgot the lyrics and smiled with embarrassment, but the crowd sang the lyricsanyway in support, cheering and applauding her as her humility shined throughout the performance, and into the quieter moments between songs.

She talked about her opposition to President Donald Trump, recalled dyeing her hair green for a Green Day concert when she was 14 and admitted she needed to finish early to get home to her 7-year-old daughter. It was an intimate show, and Grace was at times incredibly coy, which seemed unusual considering her status, insightful lyrics and powerful delivery.

Based in Chicago, Grace said the solo performance was in preparation for a U.S. tour with her band that runs from Feb. 24—at Chicago’s Durty Nellie’s, 180 N. Smith St.—until July 1, ending in Germany. The band will be playing huge arenas, and no-doubt to sold-out shows, which makes this concert even more memorable.

The venue City Winery is spacious and beautiful with exposed brickwork and large arches that are decorated intermittently with line-work paintings that run the length of the walls. The staff is friendly, and the crowd was chic with a mixture of mature concert goers and younger people sporting hoodies, band tees and scuffed Vans—a testament to Grace’s lustrous career and ability to embody the “voice of a generation” for so many.

Somehow, in a large room, Grace created a cherished and close environment, finishing her performance to a deserved standing ovation. She thanked the audience members before they exited reluctantly, looking back over their shoulders, into an unsuspecting Sunday night in a small area of Chicago, which was otherwise busy cheering on the Super Bowl.