Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers (comprised of Laura Jane Grace, Atom Willard and engineer/friend Marc Jacob Hudson), played two incredible shows in Southern California, in March of 2019. I had been anticipating these shows, especially since I gave the Devouring Mother's record, Bought to Rot, the top spot on my Best Albums of 2018 list. Most of you have probably heard of Against Me!, and are either casual listeners, or die-hard fans. I think some of you are probably wondering, but what exactly are the Devouring Mothers? What kind of shows do they play? What does their record sound like? Well, I have done my best to answer those questions below.
The name Devouring Mothers came from a set of sculptures by French artist, Niki de Saint Phalle. While in Spain, Against Me! had visited the Guggenheim Bilbao; Laura was so fascinated by these sculptures, that upon exiting the museum, she purchased a book on the artist - "Niki put out this picture book called The Devouring Mothers that I picked up at the gift shop on the way out. I was like, 'oh, this is the best fucking band name ever.'" (Ruskin, Zack. "Laura Jane Grace Finds Beauty in Rot." SF Weekly. March 2019.)
Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers released their debut album, Bought to Rot, on November 9, 2018, on Chicago-based Bloodshot Records. During these shows, Laura discussed the Devouring Mothers, how they came to be, and how these song were different from Against Me! songs. She had mentioned her book tour ( for her 2016 memoir with Dan Ozzi - Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout ), and how a lot of that spoken word was translated into the Devouring Mother's project.
This project took a lot of pressure off of Grace, as she told Rolling Stone - "it felt relieving to be like, 'OK, this isn't an Against Me! record, so I can say whatever the fuck I want!' There is no precedent set, it doesn't have to be anything. No one can comparatively be disappointed because it's not like the last record, or the record before that, or the record before that. Having that blank slate was really liberating." (Bernstein, Jonathan. "Laura Jane Grace on New Band Devouring Mothers and the Future of Against Me!"Rolling Stone. 29 August 2018.) Having the record feel like the classic mixtape, as Grace has stated in the past, was "musically freeing, in that way, to just be playing whatever was coming to me as I was writing, and not having to think about it." (Bernstein, Jonathan. "Laura Jane Grace on New Band Devouring Mothers and the Future of Against Me!" Rolling Stone. 29 August 2018.) With a catalogue full of songs discussing heartbreak and dysphoria, Laura Jane Grace wanted to go in a different direction - "I don't want to write about these same things anymore. I need some new sources of inspiration. And I don't want to be negative. I want to write some positive, happy songs, and I wanted that to be inspired by positive, happy living too." (BP Staff. 17 October 2018. Marc Jacob Hudson Produces and Plays on New Album from Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers. Retrieved from www.bassplayer.com.)
The Devouring Mothers project was also inspired heavily by Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever, Petty's passing, as well as the band The Mountain Goats. Full Moon Fever was the first record Laura ever received, and she listened to it religiously. "My first electric guitar I ever got was a Traveling Wilburys' model electric guitar. When I was 18 years old, I moved to Gainesville, Fla., where Petty and the Heartbreakers were from, so it was this huge influence on my life. And when I was talking about doing this record, it was good to be able to point to that record in particular, because a lot of the people were like, 'oh, it'll confuse people, it's a distraction, does this mean you're breaking up Against Me! or what?'. and I was like, 'look, Tom Petty did Full Moon Fever. He still went on to do many records with the Heartbreakers. You can do this, it makes sense.'" (Ross, Dalton. "Laura Jane Grace on Punk, Pizza, Tom Petty and Transgender Rights." Entertainment Weekly. 08 November 2018.)
The record title, Bought to Rot, sparked listener's curiosity as well. For one, the album cover art shows a dilapidated K-Mart, just sitting there. Going back to 2003, that was the year that Grace purchased Stan Lynch's 1964 Fender Jaguar. Lynch was the drummer for the Heartbreakers, and the guitar never got used while in his possession. Laura also purchased a 70's twin reverb amplifier, and both it and the guitar were used on the Devouring Mother's record. "When Petty passed away, I was sitting alone there playing along to the records with my Jaguar, and I was like, 'this guitar sounds like it could've been used on these records', and I was like, 'dang, this guitar was probably sitting there in the studio when they were recording all of these seminal hits!' And I kind of developed this story, projecting this story onto the guitar, true or not, of what it would be like if you're a guitar. I honestly believe that guitars have souls. And if you're a guitar, all you want in your existence is to be played, you know? To be used on records, or to be played live."(Ross, Dalton. "Laura Jane Grace on Punk, Pizza, Tom Petty and Transgender Rights." Entertainment Weekly. 08 November 2018.) Grace has mentioned that Lynch's guitar was essentially "bought to rot", with it never serving its true purpose in life, and instead, collecting dust and decomposing over time. Same goes for the K-Mart featured on the cover; this K-Mart now just sits there, when it once had a purpose.
The first show I attended was in Santa Ana, California, at a venue named La Santa. Located right across the street from the Yost Theater, the floor, stage and bar were down a flight of stairs, which were present as I walked through the door. I was informed (by a fellow Mable) that La Santa was supposed to be used as a bomb shelter in the 1940's, which adds a little cool history to this particular venue. La Santa was small, intimate, and had low ceilings; Laura Jane Grace was made aware of the ceilings as she is over six feet tall. The bar was against the back wall, and to its right were the merch tables.
As I walked toward the merch, I immediately gravitated toward the matching tee, hoodie and sweatpants from the Devouring Mothers. They were all black, and adorned with a gold cobra (designed by artist Bryn Perrott). Other pieces of merch that stood out were the helicopter shirt (designed by graphic artist Mikaela Jane Palermo), as well as one shirt with I HATE CHICAGO emblazoned on the chest., representing Laura Jane Grace's (possibly) tongue-in-cheek song about, well, hating Chicago.
The Devouring Mother's merch table also had an array of mugs, more tees, a poster, a tote bag - and even a replica of Laura's skull on a silver enamel pin (by Stupid Rad Merch Company!). There was also a limited edition blue variant of Bought to Rot on vinyl, only available on this tour run.
CONTROL TOP and MERCY UNION
Control Top and Mercy Union were the supporting bands on this tour run. I was excited to see who the Devouring Mothers had picked as their tour support, and was looking forward to some new and exciting bands.
Control Top (from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) immediately grabbed my attention - loud, powerful instruments, cutting vocals, and style for days. Control Top - Ali Carter (bass/vocals), Al Creedon (Guitar), and Alex Lichtenauer (drums) - were a perfect choice. Described as post-punk, this trio grabs your attention and doesn't let go. At one point during the set, Ali stepped down from the stage to scream the songs in people's faces, and they all loved it. Their new record, Covert Contracts, was released April 5th, 2019, via Get Better Records. For me, the title track and "Chain Reaction" are definite standouts on Covert Contracts.
Control Top's merch table was placed to the left of the Devouring Mother's table, and they had a good selection of items for sale. Tee shirts, records, cassette tapes, as well as other items from the Get Better Records roster, were available at their table.
Mercy Union were the second band to take the stage. I had never seen, nor heard of Mercy Union, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I enjoyed them too. Hailing from Jersey City, New Jersey, Mercy Union released their debut album, The Quarry (via Gunner Records and Mt. Crushmore Records) in 2018. Described as a "rock quartet", Mercy Union - Jared Hart (guitar/vocals), Benny Horowitz (drums/percussion), Nick Jorgensen (bass/vocals), and Rocky Catanese (guitar/vocals), provided the crowd with mellow rock anthems, written with definite heart. My standout tracks from The Quarry are definitely "Young Dionysians", and "Reverse". Benny Horowitz was a pleasure to watch, continuously beaming with a huge smile while playing the drums.
THE DEVOURING MOTHERS
During both shows, Laura Jane Grace snuck up on stage in a black hoodie, and tuned her
guitar. Atom and Marc followed suit, and the opening song was "Dilaudid", a cover of the Mountain Goats song. Laura then announced that they would be playing every single song off of Bought to Rot, a couple of Against Me! songs, as well as songs from her 2008 EP, Heart Burns.
The next few songs were all off of Bought to Rot - "Apocalypse Now (and Later)", "Amsterdam Hotel Room", "The Hotel Song", "China Beach", and "Born in Black." For me, "Apocalypse Now (and Later)" is a song that brings me (and I'm sure others) hope. It's a song that brings a smile to my face, and with an opening line like "you make me walk away from the hate I carry", how could anyone not fall in love with this simple, yet heartfelt, song. "Amsterdam Hotel Room" is a fast paced, descriptive song, that will take anyone and everyone a month to correctly learn the lyrics. Another hotel song, appropriately named "The Hotel Song", hints at the nomadic lifestyle that Laura has adopted since her early life. When we all hear the lyrics, however, we all realize that the song isn't as simplistic as the title implies. It's a fairly slow-paced, almost angelic song, but really grabs listeners when Laura screams, "I sleep in my jeans and I die in my sleep. I'll be gone in the morning." "China Beach" is the first track off of the record, and it really packs punch. I had mentioned the song to Laura after the show, briefly speaking about my interpretations/thoughts on the line "are you my enemy, and are we at war?", with my thought being that she was speaking to herself in the mirror. She politely nodded, and said that it was a seemingly accurate interpretation. She also mentioned that during an MRI, you are instructed "don't breathe, don't swallow", aka the chorus of "China Beach."
"Conceptual Paths" (from Laura's 2008 EP, Heart Burns) was performed next, followed by an Against Me! song, "Ache with Me." The latter was from the 2010 album, White Crosses, and Laura reminds us that "Ache with Me" remains one of the most hated songs in their catalogue.
"The Apology Song" was next, and this song is dedicated to Laura's daughter, Evelyn. Laura has written a few songs about/dedicated to Evelyn in the past; most notably, "Two Coffins", and "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong" (originally about Laura's grandmother, this song now takes on a new meaning in recent years).
"The Acid Test Song", "The Airplane Song", and "Screamy Dreamy" were the next three songs performed. These three songs are all very different from one another, referring back to the "mixtape" feel of this record. "The Acid Test Song", a song about dating and well, taking acid, has one of the most memorable lines (in my opinion) on the record - "all the songs that I could sing for you, will never mean anything to you," "The Airplane Song", upbeat and effervescent as ever, gives off a feel-good energy, while still discussing the conflict of being "torn between two lovers."
"Androgynous", a song by The Replacements, was played right after. Laura had previously performed this song with Joan Jett and Miley Cyrus, as part of Cyrus's Happy Hippie Backyard Sessions.
I feel as though the next song is one of the most, if not the most, talked about songs on the record. On "I Hate Chicago", Laura discusses her disdain for the city of Chicago, and everything that goes along with it. "I hope that people get it, that it's not really necessarily totally about the city, but also it's about the city." (Scancarelli, Derek. "The World Need Not Burn Out on Laura Jane Grace." Forbes. 12 March 2019.) With snarky lyrics, such as, "learn how to make a pizza, you fucking jackoffs", this song captures everyone's attention. On the record, Laura sings, "I especially hate Bridgeport 'cause that's where she lives", but has seemingly been interchanging Chicago neighborhoods during this verse. Wicker Park and Logan Square were the two other neighborhoods mentioned at these particular shows.
"The Friendship Song", "Amputations", and "Reality Bites" were played back to back, with "Amputations" also coming off of Laura's 2008 EP. "Reality Bites", co-written with Sabrina Ellis of A Giant Dog, is one of my favorite songs off of this record. This song's melody is definitely upbeat and catchy, but the underlying message is what's important. This song discusses embracing who you are, all while accompanied by Laura's powerful, raspy vocals. The line "no one wants to be themselves, they all wanna be someone else. You didn't try to get there", is a standout, especially for those who have always struggled with their identity and self-esteem.
"Valeria Golino" and "Manic Depression"were the last songs played, prior to the encore. When I try to describe Valeria Golino, I think about the beginning - when Atom's massive, slow drum beat comes in, with the combination of Laura's biting vocals, it's a tad soothing. Then, as the chorus and the second verse hit, the anger starts to emerge, and this powerful, gravely insanity starts to take over. With the memorable lyric "your perception is not my purpose" being one of the most important lines in the whole album, it makes sense that Laura would scream something like this, accompanied by frenzied, yet cohesive, instrumentation.
I believe that it was a perfect idea to end the main set with "Manic Depression." The tension, the frustration and the anger that this song conveys is something that I, as I'm sure many other people can relate to. Most of the song is played in a somber-yet-passionate tone, with lyrics such as, "I'm so fucking over indirect vagueness. If you lack passion, just stop trying."
The encore consisted of four songs. "Take the Skinheads Bowling" by Camper Van Beethoven, and then three Against Me! songs - "Cavalier Eternal" (As the Eternal Cowboy), "Two Coffins" (Transgender Dysphoria Blues) and "True Trans Soul Rebel" (Transgender Dysphoria Blues). Laura laughed and turned to Atom as she sang the first line of "Take the Skinheads Bowling", one of the silliest songs, most nonsensical songs that I have ever heard in my life. They continued to smile, and looked as though they thoroughly enjoyed playing that song.
A few stories were shared during the shows. In the first one, Laura mentioned Primavera festival in Spain, where she ate ice cream, rode bikes, and ended up watching amazing performances by Van Morrison and Grace Jones. The other story, which was told on night two, was about reading The Divine Comedy (well, kind of). Laura mentioned that the pyramids had gone from this enormous sacred monument, to a belittled state - a mere backdrop that the Red Hot Chili Peppers simply perform in front of. Laura also mentioned the coincidence of reading up on Julius Caesar, all the while passing a Little Caesar's billboard on the side of the road.
Every single track off of Bought to Rot gives off a different vibe. As you make your way through this record, it becomes an intense, eye-opening journey. While some may not yet be familiar with Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers, I would highly suggest that people stop and take a moment to listen. Whether you're an Against Me! fan, or you've never even listened to punk, I strongly suggest giving Bought to Rot a listen.
Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers most recent performance was at Ohana Festival on September 28th. Laura and Atom are continuing to tour with Against Me! for October and November, playing four albums in full at these locations: Los Angeles, Toronto, Sayreville, Boston, Baltimore, and of course FEST. The four albums being performed will be: (Night One) Searching for a Former Clarity and New Wave, and (Night Two) White Crosses and Transgender Dysphoria Blues.