Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Live Shows: Laura Jane Grace & the Mississippi Medicals, Thelma & The Sleaze, and Dikembe, Crystal Ballroom at Somerville Theater, Somerville, MA 3/10/24

Photo by Bella Peterson

March 11, 2020 was the night everything changed. Tom Hanks announced he tested positive for COVID. The NBA and NHL cancelled their seasons. Travel to Europe was banned. All of that happened while I was at an Against Me! show in Holyoke, which led me to abandon my spot near the front of the stage to the very back corner of the venue to get as far away from everyone as possible. It was obviously a bad experience, and I've wanted a do-over ever since. Sunday night, I finally got my chance when Laura Jane Grace played the Crystal Ballroom in Somerville.

Playing as the newly christened Laura Jane Grace & the Mississippi Medicals, this is going to be a hard show to write about as it's going to be impossible to not overly gush about it to an embarrassing amount. Joined by drummer Mikey Erg and bassist Matt Patton, the trio took the stage with some of the most tremendous energy I've ever seen. Based on some of Grace's solo releases, I wasn't sure what we were going to get, but this was a full on punk rock show. Early on in the set, Grace declared that they were playing the same setlist that they did in New York City the night before to prove it wasn't the songs but the audience. I'm fully aware that "You're a much better crowd than last night" is a rock and roll cliche, and Boston particularly eats that up when the other city is New York, but considering Grace isn't known as a bullshit artist and how enthusiastic the crowd in Somerville was, we believed her.

And what a show it was. Grace was joined by Ezra Furman for "Punk Rock in Basements" and "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong," and Grace's wife Paris Campbell on vocals for most of the set. The band played nine Against Me! songs and ten of the eleven songs on the recently released Hole In My Head. It's rare for an audience and a performer to match energy as perfectly as they did Sunday night, but the energy just kept building with every song. I'm a huge fan of watching Matt Patton perform since no one is happier on stage than he is, and that was on full display in Somerville. Getting to sing the "Pig pig pig/Pig pig pig" from "I'm Not a Cop" seemed to bring him a particular delight. 

For the encore, Grace planned it as a slow burn, starting off playing "Dysphoria Hoodie" solo, and closing with the epic Against Me! song 'Black Me Out." At one point in the show, Grace offered to put anyone who wanted to go to their Wednesday show in Virginia Beach on the guest list and pay for their hotel if they promised to dance and jump around as much as they were at this show, and I'm still seriously debating bailing on my life for a couple of days to take her up on that offer.

Thelma & The Sleaze played second, and I was curious how they would do with both Grace's crowd and not playing in a dive. Their opening song, "Good Girls," seemed to confuse the audience who didn't know what to think of this cowboy hat wearing band playing a bewildering mix of punk, metal, country, and power pop. When singer Lauren "LG" Gilbert announced the second song was about her two favorite things: pussy and cars, it clicked with the audience who got fully into the rest of the set. From them on, we were all locked in for songs about not stabbing people with a broken lamp, butts, and "sucking and fucking." I thought that there was no way they'd be able to beat their show at O'Brien's back in July, but Thelma & The Sleaze are the rare band who work better in front of a larger crowd.

Dikembe opened up the night with a version of earnest punk rock. The Gainesville band were a solid choice who set the tone for the evening. I'm unsure of how much of the audience knew them before that night, but they were fully invested in the band right from the start. They gushed about how much fun they were having on tour and how great everyone on the tour was, and I fully believe them. Don't be surprised to see some versions of this exact tour down the road. Some combinations are just magic, and that was proven Sunday night.

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