In March last year, Laura Jane Grace and her venerable punk band Against Me! were just three dates into their U.S. tour when they got word that all shows were being canceled due to coronavirus concerns. A surreal 2020 followed — during which Grace took the Against Me! songs she’d already been working on and recorded the raw solo album Stay Alive with Steve Albini, an experience she describes as “really cathartic. … I was like, ‘Let's just go ahead and get the songs out, and then I can move on mentally.’”
The bizarre year was then capped off by an especially bizarre post-election Nov. 7 press conference staged by Donald Trump’s attorney at the time, Rudy Giuliani, at Philadelphia’s Four Seasons — no, not the hotel, but Four Seasons Total Landscaping, located in an industrial parking lot right next to the Fantasy Island adult bookstore and Delaware Valley Cremation. And now, as live music resumes again, Grace is playing her cathartic first concert in 18 months…. at Four Seasons Total Landscaping. It’s also the first-ever official show at the infamous location. “I'm actually counting myself as the second show there, and that the first ‘show’ was Giuliani,” Grace chucklingly clarifies.
“I’m just looking for that joyous release,” Grace tells Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume from Florida, where she’s visiting her family for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. “I'm really hoping to just be surrounded by bodies and have everybody singing in a parking lot under the sun, and have that kind of communal release after a year and a half of isolation and stress and missing live music.”
“Ever since I saw my personal hero Rudy Giuliani humiliate himself for the good of the nation at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, I knew I wanted to go there and follow in his footsteps, then shop at the porn store, and eventually move off this mortal coil by being burned at the neighboring crematorium,” the Lawrence Arms frontman Brendan Kelly — who is also the playing the concert, and came up with the idea with his booking agent — stated in the Aug. 21 event’s sarcastic press release. “It’s not often you get to touch history, but that’s what Laura and I will be doing in this most hallowed of political and mulching grounds.”
Grace says when Kelly approached her about this one-off gig, without hesitation she responded, “‘Hell yeah I want to play at Four Seasons Total Landscaping!’ I'm guessing a concert hasn't happened there before because I don't think anyone's thought to even ask. … And it does feel like they have ambitions to not just be a landscaping company.” (The woman-run small business has jumped on other pop-culture opportunities since last November, selling hipster T-shirts and appearing in a Fiverr commercial during Super Bowl LV.)
Grace says she has little idea what to expect of her Four Seasons show, which is cheekily billed as her “most prestigious appearance of 2021” in that above-mentioned press release. “I don't imagine there's going to be a big, huge stage. I imagine it’ll be pretty similar to when Giuliani standing at podium in a parking lot,” she laughs. She’s just excited to meet the proprietors and get the inside scoop on how Four Seasons Total Landscaping became an unlikely tourist attraction and now pop-up punk venue. “I think if you're judging it by origin stories for a venue, they have great story to say where it all began. I mean, you can see it all happening in a movie already,” Grace says. (A Four Seasons Total Landscaping documentary is indeed already in the works.)
“I definitely want to see what [Four Seasons Total Landscaping] is like, because I have a hard time imagining [the Giuliani press conference] being that simple of an accident, for some reason,” Grace muses. (Most reporters assumed it was all a big, Three’s Company-style misunderstanding, and that Giuliani’s cringe-worthy presser was supposed to take place at Philadelphia’s same-named luxury hotel — although it’s possible that the now-legendary site was actually chosen deliberately.) “I feel like there had to have been some sort of Secret Service vetting process, and someone along the way would have been like, ‘Um, excuse me, sir, that's actually a landscaping company and not the Four Seasons Hotel!’ I really don't know. I'm curious to meet the [employees], because in my head, I picture this woman who's been working all day cutting grass and she’s stressed and distracted and she sits down at her desk. Phone rings: ‘Hello, Giuliani? Yeah, sure, whatever you want.’ And she hangs up. Then, she goes to her team lunch a couple months later: ‘Brendan Kelly and Laura Jane Grace? Yeah, sure, whatever you want.’
“I'm along for the ride, though,” Grace continues excitedly. “To me, going there and playing is this kind of active healing, in a way, after that surreal event. Because it was like a veneer of reality was just completely pulled back for a second. Regardless of your politics, I feel like you should have been able to look at that [news conference] and be like, ‘Wait a second. These people are grifters. There's a scam happening here.’”
The politically minded punk singer, who is prominent supporter of organizations like St. Louis’s Metro Trans, New York’s Gender Is Over, and various legal trans defense funds, came out as trans in a landmark 2012 Rolling Stone interview and opened up further about that experience in her 2016 autobiography Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout. Over the past decade she had forged a strong relationship with her fans in the LGBTQ+ community who look up to her — “If anyone has any questions on anything, I'm pretty available on Twitter; I use it like text-messaging” — and she says it “feels awesome” to have all that support. “It's always extremely humbling. That's always a moment that I definitely take pause and appreciate, because I know how much it meant to me for the people who witnessed [my coming-out journey].
“It feels like almost being like part of a collective subconscious. I think it was 2014 was when Laverne Cox was on the cover of Time magazine and it was labeled the ‘transgender tipping point.’ You know, when you're growing up being trans and being closeted, when you see other people being visible and coming out, it means so much to you. Because you you're like, ‘Oh, that's someone else like me, even if I can't vocalize it.’ Being now older [age 40], I realize that the more people who do that, you are empowering more people. And it is a cumulative effect. It does lead to a tipping point. … I think there's still so much more room for more progress to be made and so much more room for edification, but it definitely it feels better to be here now than it did 20 years ago.”
As for the fact that those loyal fans helped Grace’s Four Seasons Total Landscaping gig sell out in just 17 minutes, she says she’s “blown away” — although, she concedes with a laugh, “I don't even know what the capacity is for that parking lot. How did they judge that?” And while she insisted in her press release that “this will be the first and last time Brendan and I will play in front of a landscaping company,” she’s now “very much hinting” that there will be a “second or third” concert, due to demand. (Follow her on Twitter for updates.) However, Grace’s other press-release statement is surely true: that her currently scheduled Aug. 21 Four Seasons concert “will be better than that MAGA s*** show.” And for those that can’t make it to Philly or couldn’t secure a ticket, yes, there is official concert merch for sale. And Grace is even speculating that the Four Seasons Total Landscaping show might lead to a themed concert tour, because 2021 is turning out to be as surreal as the year that preceded it.
“I am more forward-thinking, of being able to commit now to whatever the site of any future political guffaws or embarrassments, I'm willing to be there and to play a show there,” Grace quips. “So, maybe now we just start the list of what the venues are.”
The above interview is taken from Laura Jane Grace's appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Full audio of that conversation is available via the SiriusXM app.
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