The archetypal riot grrrl band Bikini Kill are on the road again and fighting the activist feminist fight on stage after a 20 years hiatus, and after a few shows in LA, they have come to roar in New York with several shows before jumping across the pond to London. We caught their NYC show at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre, and they managed to really show how badass a reunion could be. This tour’s roster is ¾ of the original lineup, with frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, drummer Tobi Vail, and bassist Kathi Wilcox being joined by guitarist Erica Dawn Lyle for the journey.
The first time I saw Bikini Kill was back in 1991 in Seattle, and they were opening for Mudhoney and Nirvana. We were running late that night and we came in as they were thundering through their last song. I was so blown away, and bummed about missing most of that set, that I went to see them play a much smaller show down the road just a couple days later. I was so enraptured by their raw revolutionary cries that I became a lifelong fan. It was only a few years later that the band broke up, but I did end up catching Kathleen Hanna many times after, in both Le Tigre, and more recently, The Julie Ruin, and in the most recent shows I caught they did surprise just about everyone by ending their sets with the roaring Bikini Kill anthem “Rebel Girl.” After that, I was in attendance at a NYC venue a couple years back where classic punk provocateurs The Raincoats were having a reunion of their own when Hanna, Vail, and Wilcox shocked the crowd by showing to play a couple songs. Apparently, that was where the seeds of reunification were born, and now they are showing off that this is far more than just a reunion – this is a full on revolution.
The DC-based art punk collective known as Gauche opened the show with an anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and pro-feminist battle cry that is powerful and inspiring. At its core this band has members of other activist hard-hitters, like Priests drummer (and sometimes co-frontwoman) Daniele Yandel and Downtown Boys’ Mary Jane Regalado, and that already provides an extremely towering base of talent to ascend. The outfit most certainly has sonic elements of both bands, but definitely allows for all of its members to have plenty of space to breathe and grow. They definitely wave a sizeable protest flag, but there is still a jubilant party-like atmosphere to many of their songs that reminds me of classic B-52s and Devo. Their debut album is coming out in July, and there are clearly some real classics songs in their arsenal, so I look forward to seeing and hearing more.
As Bikini Kill took to the stage one of the first things Kathleen said as she pointed towards ladies in the audience was her timeless pro-woman and anti-rape culture battle cry of “girls to the front!” Their pioneering message of female empowerment, solidarity, and female strength felt more important and vibrant than ever, especially in the age of Trump. Even though the “girls to the front” mantra was meant to provide a sanctuary from the aggression and abuse of male-dominated punk shows of the early 90’s, there is still a long way to go to a real equal culture, and Hannah made many mentions of charities and marches for the LGBTQ community and abuse aid organizations. There was a very loud and clear battle cry roaring through their set.
The sound was exceptionally loud and muddy, especially from back in the cavernous theater, but I even remarked to one of my friends that the rough and raw acoustics were the only way they should present themselves, saying “this is Bikini Kill, not Pink Floyd!” Their lo-fi attitude is what defined them as a band, and I remember when their last album was released back in the mid 90’s, and it was slightly more produced than the previous DIY albums, and pretty much everyone threw a serious fit over it. The show was darn well near perfect to me, playing heavily off their first couple albums, but also getting into some of their more rare singles and B-sides. I see that they have already signed on to the Riot Fest lineup in Chicago in September, and I have a feeling this may be only the beginning…
Article: Dean Keim