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Concert review: Through changes, Against Me! shows punk rock is still the same

It’s hard to talk about Against Me! without talking about how lead singer Laura Jane Grace used to be Thomas James Gabel.

It’s hard to talk about Frank Iero without talking about his former band, My Chemical Romance.

But neither talked about either at their show last night at Newport Music Hall. They just played — loud and hard.

Iero was the guitarist in alternative rock band My Chemical Romance, most notably known for its album “The Black Parade.” Many concert-goers wore old-school MCR shirts and vests to celebrate Iero’s roots. Iero himself took the stage as his solo project, FrnkIero And The Cellabration.

Iero’s microphone was set up to not face the crowd directly. Instead, Iero faced and played stage right for the most part — which was as intriguing as the fact that concert-goers were still sporting knee-high Converse circa 2006.

This wasn’t about fashion though, or reliving the glory days of a former favorite band. This was about convulsively headbanging while playing music with loud, distorted guitar and screaming lyrics. Lyrics were often indiscernible and Iero said one song didn’t even have a name.

It was angst-filled noise that hit home for some reason. Some things never change.

Laura Jane Grace announced in May 2012 that she identified as transgender and would begin transitioning into life as a woman.

With the recent SCOTUS decision legalizing same-sex marriage and a powerful, personal story, a heart-to-heart with the audience on equality, acceptance and love was expected.

Grace did so only by playing her heart out. After all, this is a punk rock concert, not a rally.

Starting with “Unconditional Love” — off of the band’s latest album, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” — and ending with their classic “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong,” Against Me! played their loud, hard-driving music continuously for approximately 75 minutes.

Grace’s long hair frequently disguised her face as she played. Bassist Inge Johansson often smiled out at the crowd which supported crowd surfers and fans pointing enthusiastically while screaming back the lyrics, “Does God bless your transsexual heart, true trans soul rebel?”

I can’t speak for God, but I believe the punk rock music scene and society in general is blessed to have someone like Grace. Not because she’s different, but because the most important parts of her and her band — the grit, the talent, the no-apologies attitude — have never changed.

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