Stephanie Augello


Stephanie Augello

For someone my age, who came up just after the riot grrrl movement faded from headlines, Bikini Kill’s reunion tour is an opportunity to revel in a moment we never lived through. And though Kathleen Hanna told her Los Angeles crowd that playing these shows feels like “stepping into a time machine,” the show I witnessed at Brooklyn Steel last night didn’t quite feel like a nostalgic indulgence.

It’s 2019 and many of the issues Bikini Kill combatted in the early ’90s are still in the foreground. For example: The war on reproductive justice rages on, an alleged rapist sits on the Supreme Court, and Roe v. Wade is, once again, in jeopardy. It was also jeopardized in 1992, when Bikini Kill performed alongside Fugazi at DC’s National Mall in support of abortion rights ahead of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Bikini Kill’s music remains relevant; that much is obvious. It can feel like the only real difference between then and now is that now, you can comfortably wear a t-shirt that says “THE FUTURE IS FEMALE” to your job or buy a Gucci gown with a uterus embroidered on it.

Capitalism has caught on, even though our politics haven’t. Bikini Kill might as well reap the benefits. For fans who remember seeing the band play small DIY venues in the early ’90s, these shows might inspire a sense of alienation or affirmation, if not both. Bikini Kill really are that popular — at this point, they’re landmark artists, the type you discover when you’re 14 and miserable that absolutely changes your life for the better. They sold out Brooklyn Steel, two nights at Kings Theater, Terminal Five, and four at the Hollywood Palladium. They’re also headlining Riot Fest in the fall. When the reunion tour was announced, it induced excitement and cynicism. Here’s Bikini Kill, a band that espoused the DIY ethos, selling out shows on dreaded Ticketmaster. (Courtney Love absolutely had words.) But you know what? Seeing this band reunite probably felt like some kind of deliverance to a lot of people. It’s a million dollar feeling, and you don’t get paid to be virtuous.

For this tour, Hanna, Tobi Vail, and Kathi Wilcox are joined by guitarist Erica Dawn Lyle in lieu of Billy Karren. The set is packed, and they do two encores. In the cavernous Brooklyn Steel, punk music kind of sounds like mush by the time it reaches the back of the hall. But that didn’t really matter, because the crowd knew all the words anyway. Bikini Kill have been alternating their setlist show to show, and last night they opened with “Carnival,” which is, as you know, “a song about 16 year old girls giving carnies head/ For free rides and hits of pot.” Watching Hanna, who is now 50, sing that song with obvious delight felt awesome. The set was short on banter from the outset, because as she put it: “I’m not gonna get into everything we’re going through right now ’cause I wanna party.”

The mood stayed light, but Hanna later dedicated “Feels Blind” to “all the artists and activists in the crowd who aren’t giving up.” After “This Is Not A Test,” she looked out at the churning pool of people in the pit and started talking about reclaiming our collective witchcraft. “Times are bleak! We cannot hide our magical forces,” she said. “We need to set up some abortion clinics in Alabama, penthouse apartment style.” Later, she commented on the new St. Vincent-produced Sleater-Kinney single, saying that it’s “a new direction for them,” which is certainly true. Vail took over the mic throughout the night, stepping in to sing while Hanna played bass. It felt appropriate that they asked Palberta to open the show, a band that shares their scrappy punk ethos, swapping instruments from song to song.

The formal set ended, of course, with a rousing rendition of “Rebel Girl,” which had the audience that ranged from 16 to 60 pogoing and shouting and throwing their fists in the air. It was soon eclipsed by the encore, when the band launched into “Double Dare Ya.” “WE’RE BIKINI KILL/ AND WE WANT A REVOLUTION! GIRL STYLE! NOW!” The audience shouted along. I’ve heard that rallying cry a zillion times, but never live. It felt big enough to be true.

01 “Carnival”
02 “Jigsaw Youth”
03 “New Radio”
04 “Don’t Need You”
05 “Feels Blind”
06 “I Hate Danger”
07 “In Accordance”
08 “Demirep”
09 “Reject”
10 “Alien She”
11 “No Backrub”
12 “Sugar”
13 “Hamster Baby”
14 “Tell Me So”
15 “This Is Not A Test”
16 “Capri Pants”
17 “Resist Psychic Death”
18 “Outta Me”
19 “For Only”
20 “Distinct Complicity”
21 “Magnet”
22 “Lil Red”
23 “Rebel Girl”
22 “Double Dare Ya/Suck My Left One” (encore)
23 “For Tammy Rae” (2nd encore)

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