I was late to the game, Bikini Kill had already played three shows at the Hollywood Palladium when I managed to catch their 4th gig, which turned to be as sold out as the other ones. Sign of the times, after more than 2 decades (22 years to be exact), the riot grrrls were back with a vengeance and everyone wanted a piece of them. When they announced their US tour, the first date at the Palladium sold out so fast that the band added another date in April, then 2 other dates in May to respond to the overwhelming demand. This #MeToo era combined with the Trump regime (although both things may be one unique phenomenon) are crying for the return of these fearless feminists and if Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox, Tobi Vail are now either 50 or 49, the first rows around me were filled with young girls who were still toddlers or barely born when Bikini Kill released ‘Revolution Girl Style Now!’ Bikini Kill is back, they are catching the zeitgeist and since history repeats itself to some variations, the Olympia band, born during the Bush era, is all fists-in-the-air during this new administration, although I don’t remember any of the girls mentioning Trump during the show.
As each night had a different opener, Le Butcherettes opened the show on Thursday night, and the spectacular and ferocious Teri Gender Bender gave us one of her surrealist and terrifying performances, all spider legs and stretched arms thrown in all directions, and some explosive theatrical antics which always put her in a category apart. Wearing her usual red outfit and feather headset, she yodeling-screamed and rolled her eyes, bouncing from her sinister keyboard to her guitar on fire with animal energy and a magnetic stare. Alice Bag joined her on stage for a crazy hair-pulling battle during ‘mother/HOLDS’, an all-hell-broke-loose episode filled with the conjoint screams of the two women.
Bikini Kill got on stage with the crowd cheering up for a few minutes! After 3 shows at the same location, it was still a triumphant entry, and many of the girls around me told me they were also there the night(s) before. For an hour and a half, Kathleen Hanna’s barking high-pitch howl rallied all women in the crowd and many men too, and if the stage antics were all about Kathleen’s bouncing-jumping moves with both arms pointing in all directions, followed by Tobi Vail’s riotous scream and floating skirt, the real action was among the crowd where people got wild. At one point, a security guard violently extracted a guy from the crowd when he was turning a bit violent, while the crowd surfing got out of control during the more rebellious songs. Kathleen enquired a few times if we were okay, although she added, ‘I’m not a teacher, I am not you guys’ parents,’ as if she was refusing to give us any advice to survive the pit.
If Kathleen and Tobi were alternating on vocals, the girls were regularly rotating roles on bass, drums, and guitars, and new guitarist Erica Dawn Lyle, who replaces Billy Karren in the lineup, was sometimes taking the place of Tobi behind the drums, while bassist Kathi Wilcox was also switching with Erica or Tobi. This constant turnover made things fluid and playful.
The short songs – and some of them are really short as ‘In Accordance to Natural Law’ must only last 30 seconds – were delivered with confidence, punch and fury, and these Bikini Kill’s punk anthems felt like a succession of sonic assaults (at a few ‘sad songs’ exceptions) screamed above punk guitars with plenty of emotional power. I saw a few girls behind me, crushed by the crowd always pushing forward, scream the lyrics with their fists in the air before disappearing in the chaos. People kept throwing stuff on stage, keys, phones, and clothes and if the girls were barely paying attention when they were playing, Kathleen commented between songs, ‘if it’s an underwear, I am not touching it!’
In the ‘90s, Bikini Kill was a force to reckon on during the underground radical feminist movement known as Riot Grrrl, but it’s a bit sad that their song ‘Rebel Girl’, that they played just before the first encore, got associated with Hillary Clinton during her last presidential campaign. The chairman of the Clinton campaign, Podesta, effectively tweeted the homemade video made by a Hillary supporter, but the video was taken down when Tobi Vail filed a copyright infringement claim. Still, the horror was done, and the fact that plenty of people (the video went viral) could associate Clinton with a line like ‘When she talks, I hear the revolution’ questions the meaning of the riot grrrl movement. Do we still understand the revolution, the DIY movement in 2019? When tickets for their first show at the Palladium were reselling between $200-300? Sure, when new dates were added, prices crashed and scalpers ate the dust, but punk has now a deal with Live Nation or Ticketmaster and this US tour couldn’t have been further from the DIY ethic that inspired the movement. I have no doubt the four women on stage still believe in their female empowerment mission, after all, Tobi told us at the end of the show, ‘It’s great you came to see us, but you need to support the feminist bands in Los Angeles!’… but are we really returning to the riot grrrl movement?
But I am not sure that the Bikini Kill hype is much more than ‘Revolution Girl Style Now!’ pink t-shirts, or a bunch of 20-year-old girls screaming at the top of their lungs ‘These are my long red nails/The better to scratch out yr eyes’ or ‘Gotta listen to what the Man says/Time to make his stomach burn’… The meaning of ‘Reject All American’ may be lost in an enthusiastic wave of nostalgia.
This is not a Test
Don’t Need You
I Hate Danger
In Accordance to Natural Law
Reject All American
Tell Me So
Resist Psychic Death
Double Dare Ya
Suck My Left One
For Tammy Rae
“Elton in the house!”
Moses Sumney plays two shows at the Ford
the highest week 1 figure since Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You
the most disposable things to collect
a covid-19 as break up, post-pandemic as new love metaphor
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where an innocent child discovers his parents are from another planet
a pulsing badass number
a window into Paul Simon’s legendary career
No Mansfield is a rockstar and so much more…….