Moments after she and her punk band Against Me! launched Tuesday into “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ” at the Uptown Theater, Laura Jane Grace swung her guitar like an ax into a monitor and repeatedly pounded the piece of equipment with her microphone stand before storming off the stage.
She didn’t return.
Grace and her band had played only 15 minutes before she flew into the rage. Communicating with fans through Twitter, Grace suggested that loud “monitor feedback … in my ear” forced her to discontinue the performance. She made good on her pledge to busk for fans a few minutes later. Upon arriving at the venue’s designated smoking area, Grace said, “I’m sorry — it really … hurt.”
Accompanied by a chorus of a few dozen rapturous fans and a handful of bemused smokers, Grace sang three songs, including “Baby, I’m an Anarchist!” during the impromptu performance.
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Grace later embraced a fan who offered a testimonial about coming out publicly as a transgender person. Grace made the same transition in 2012, a subject that informs many of the songs on “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” her Florida-based band’s sixth and best album.
As Grace engaged fans outside, more than 500 people witnessed Gaslight Anthem begin a workmanlike headlining set that would last almost two hours. Levelheaded and professional, the band from New Jersey has been demonstrating its reliability for area audiences since it opened a four-band bill at the Uptown Theater in 2008.
Gaslight Anthem’s sound — a combination of Bruce Springsteen’s wholesome histrionics and the muscular punk of stalwart bands like Social Distortion — hasn’t evolved much in the intervening years. In its best moments, Gaslight Anthem is a contender for the title of the world’s best bar band.
“Miles Davis & the Cool” and “45” were among the selections that shimmered like timeless classic rock anthems on Tuesday. Too often, however, Gaslight Anthem’s show resembled a generic beer commercial.
A 30-minute solo outing by opening act Cory Branan was more satisfying. The high-strung Memphis journeyman manhandled his guitar as if it were his enemy and howled the amusing lyrics of songs including “The No-Hit Wonder.”
As people filed out of the Uptown Theater after Gaslight Anthem ended the concert with an appropriately bombastic rendition of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” Grace stood at her band’s merchandise booth. Her hearing might have been shot, but she was wearing a wry smile.