Laura Jane Grace plays Four Seasons Total Landscaping

Laura Jane Grace had no plans to play any shows this summer, but then got an opportunity too tempting to turn it down.

“’Heck, yes I do,” the Chicago-based songwriter and guitarist recalls when asked if she wanted to headline Four Seasons Total Landscaping in northeast Philadelphia. “It just seemed brilliant on so many levels, but also kind of healing,” said Grace, founder and front woman of the punk rock band Against Me!

The gig was suggested by Philadelphia promoter Dave Kiss, who booked Grace for a show in the parking lot where then-President Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani held a press conference last November.

Grace will play solo and will be accompanied by the opening act Brendan Kelly at the lawn care company Holmesburg on Saturday afternoon on August 21, which has made its fame as “Make America Rake Again” its own.

Grace and Kelly will then play nightly indoor shows at Kung Fu Necktie in Fishtown on August 21st and 22nd. All three shows are sold out

The chance to play in the legendary landscaping business drew her to Philadelphia. “I definitely want the feeling of a happy party with a lot of people standing around singing to the music because it feels good and makes you feel alive,” says Grace, 40, on the phone from St. Louis, where she is new to music recorded. “I need such feelings after the last year and a half.”

“But then that press conference with Giuliani was like a real Black Mirror moment where it felt like reality was melting before our eyes as his hair color melted,” she says.

“And whatever people’s politics are, or whatever their basis for yes or no or truth, it just seemed to be on an optical level, so bats – crazy. Everyone who looked at it had to say, ‘Come on, that’s weird, isn’t it? What are they doing here? ‘ ”

»READ MORE: Phillys Four Seasons Total Landscaping Cleans Up The Dirt At Press Conference Heard” Around The World “:” It Wasn’t What We Expected “

Promoter Kiss, who regularly books kung fu ties and performs at places like Johnny Brenda and the First Unitary Church, went on a Four Seasons pilgrimage last November.

“I was up there with some friends a few days after the event. Just hang out, take photos and feel the energy, ”said Kiss.

In April, an agent of Kelly’s friend Grace contacted him looking for an outdoor venue in Philly. “I was like, ‘Boy, do I have an outdoor venue? The perfect one. And then we wondered if Laura would fly in and play that. Because it could be something very special. “

“That sounds a little crazy,” says Kiss. “But I’m from Philadelphia. And that parking lot was pushed onto the world stage to be a stage. And that’s like Philadelphia. “

Grace thought it could be special too, but instead of flying, she packs a guitar and amp and heads DIY-style out of Chicago for a sold-out run of four shows starting Aug. 20 at the Crossroads in Garwood. NJ “This is not for the dirty winnings of a big fat paycheck,” she says. “But I’ll drive out there and it’ll cover my gas and back.”

The idea, she says, is to “take back” the Four Seasons space and turn it into something more or something different. It feels healing, like touching the base with reality again. It’s a real place and I’ll stand in front of it and play my guitar. “

The accumulation of August dates will be Grace’s first since the release of Stay Alive last October, her only solo album in two decades of Against Me! releases.

Highlights include 2005’s breakthrough Searching for a Former Clarity and 2014 transgender Dysphoria Blues, the first Against Me! Release after Grace was outed as transgender in 2012. In 2018 she released Born To Rot as Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers.

Grace wrote most of the songs for Stay Alive pre-pandemic, including a resonant song called “Shelter in Place” that begins with the tender couplet: “Fra Angelico blue, all my love for you / My own private paradise, quarantine is very nice. “

The intention was to put the melodies in an Against Me! record. But after the band, which originally formed in Florida, played a Bernie Sanders charity in New England last March, the shutdown sent them back to their homes across the country.

Grace was isolated at home in Chicago, where she had parental custody of her 11-year-old daughter Evelyn for months. “I spent a month completely alone, then a month with my child,” she says of her pandemic rhythm. “It was distance learning, although a lot of it depends on us, the parents. It’s hard to teach your child math if you’re not really good at math yourself. “

Not knowing when she and her bandmates would be back in a recording studio together, Grace went to work creating the songs for Against Me! into a solo album. (She was also busy with her monthly live radio show for Vans, sponsors of the long-running Warped Tour, which Against Me! Played many times.)

Working with famously fast-paced Steve Albini, whose long list of credits as an engineer includes classics like Surfer Rosa from The Pixies and In Utero from Nirvana, she made an urgent, pared-down record that will be dedicated to folk-punk fellow travelers Billy Bragg and . reminds the mountain goats.

In addition to real protest songs like “Hanging Tree”, Stay Alive has its diffuse stretches, “Songs that are really surrealistic and abstract, more about feelings and painting with words,” she says, like “Ice Cream Song”. and “Supernatural Possession”.

“That gave me comfort and made more sense to me as the pandemic progressed,” says Grace. “It was too much reality, too much sat watching the news. Trying to write overarching statements about everything that happened seemed like an impossible task. “

The album closes with the frank “Old Friend (Stay Alive)”, the band’s first song.

“I wrote it for a friend of mine who was going through a difficult time and I was worried about her. They think of the old days and where we are all now … and the lives we lived, and that felt especially relevant given the pandemic, “she says. “Because our lives have always turned and turned, the ultimate feeling I had about my friend, for whom I wrote the song, was, ‘Just stay alive.’ ”

Grace had herself in mind when she wrote the lyrics: “I don’t belong anywhere I go / Always the outsider”.

“I always feel very alienated,” she says. “I think that was part of being closed off as a trans person, and being outside as a trans person is part of it. In the last decade or so there has definitely been progress and acceptance, visibility and understanding, but there is still so much to be done.

“To exist as a transgender person in society often things don’t go together, you know? That’s part of the problem. But what can you do other than keep living? That’s part of the experience. “

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