Mike Watt + The Black Gang – “Rebel Girl” (Bikini Kill Cover)
You don’t see too many men covering Bikini Kill songs. “Ballsy” seems like the absolute wrong word, but it’s certainly a brave choice, and an unusual one. Today, though, Bikini Kill’s fellow underground rock revolutionary Mike Watt has taken a stab at it. As Brooklyn Vegan points out, Kill Rock Stars, the long-tenured Pacific Northwest indie that released Bikini Kill’s records, is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a new series of covers. A bunch of artists are taking on songs from the Kill Rock Stars catalog, and Watt is one of the first to step up. He’s left his stamp on “Rebel Girl,” the 1993 anthem that means so much to so many people.
Watt, the underground hero of Minutemen and fIREHOSE fame, was already a veteran when he witnessed the Bikini Kill phenomenon firsthand. Watt’s Bikini Kill cover, a live recording, is credited to Mike Watt + The Black Gang — the intermittently-active power trio that also includes Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and former Claw Hammer drummer Bob Lee. Their version of “Rebel Girl” is faithful to the original, with some extra noise-rock shredding, but it’s truly strange to hear Watt sing the song in a sort of exaggerated yokel accent. It’s cool, I guess? Listen to the Mike Watt + The Black Gang cover and the Bikini Kill original below.
In a statement, Watt says:
Me and K have a two bass-only band called Dos and we opened up for Bikini Kill once and that’s where I first witnessed this tune “Rebel Girl” getting played. I just knew it was their song, the same way I first saw Superchunk do “Slack Motherfucker” and ‘pert-near just like that time, immediately I wanted to do my own version of it. Lots of times I’ve dug songs from people I’ve witnessed for the first time but this went further with me: I wanted my way trying to feel like them, doing it. I know, kind of insane but that’s what I’ve found about where music can take you… I love the phrasing so much with words you can really put your heart into full-on and also the big time econo main lick… ECONO! This live version here I got to do with The Black Gang (Nels Cline and Bob Lee) was during an encore and I was tuckered big time but still the tune itself helped me bring it – a great tune is like that. Soundman Steve Reed is singing along with us at the soundboard, I love it. This is the kind of tune I wish I could’ve played for D Boon even though I don’t think I got all the words right. Nels Cline and Bob Lee kicked up much dust, a great tribute to a fucking righteous tune. Thank you Kill Rock Stars for letting folks hear.
Kill Rock Stars founder Slim Moon says:
It is fitting that this second single in this 30th anniversary series is by Mike Watt with Nels Cline and Bob Lee, just as it was fitting that the first single in the series involved Mary Lou Lord. It is another “slight return” of an artist we had the pleasure of working with a bit back in the ’90s. The trio on this single were featured on the 1999 This Is A Prayer 7″ 3-song single. Watt’s trio L’il Pit released a 7″ on KRS in 1997, and Dos, Watt’s duo with Kira Roessler, dropped their third album, Justamente Tres, on Kill Rock Stars in 1996. To whatever degree I believe in the “great women and men” theory of human history, Mike Watt is one of the towering figures in the history of punk rock — so is Nels Cline — and Bikini Kill is the greatest punk rock band in the history of the world. Knowing I got to work with these amazing people means I can die happy.
As Moon points out, that “Rebel Girl” cover is the second in the Stars Rock Kill (Rock Stars) series. The first is a version of Elliott Smith’s “Some Song” that indie OG Mary Lou Lord recorded with voice actress and harpist Mikaela Davis. That cover rocks, and you can hear it right here:
You can subscribe to the Stars Rock Kill (Rock Stars) series here.