Words + Photos ANDREW PARKS
“Bikini Kill was very difficult,” Kathleen Hanna said in a self-titled interview a decade ago. “Not just because the four of us have very different personalities; the reception we got was very confusing. People either loved us or hated us in a way that bordered on violence.”
Elsewhere in the conversation, Hanna elaborated on how and why the band came to an abrupt end in 1997: “It started feeling like it was ramping up to the point that some crazy person was going to shoot me onstage. I felt like everybody expected me to be this über-confident feminist and write these anthems, but I didn’t really know who I was anymore.”
What a difference two decades has made — at least in terms of how the punk-rock pioneers are viewed by the general public. While they received a disturbing amount of death threats and backhanded compliments during their mid-’90s heyday, Bikini Kill are now revered as the high water mark of the riot grrrl movement they helped shape beginning with their self-released demo Revolution Girl Style Now. Its prickly halfway point (“This is Not a Test”) sounded like a lit match sandwiched in between a stormy “New Radio” and “Don’t Need You” at Palace Theatre last Thursday night. One that’s about to be tossed into a tall pile of dry wood dusted in gasoline, as thousands of fans step towards the flames.
Which makes perfect sense given the State of Things. As Hanna pointed out several times throughout the 90-minute show — their first in St. Paul since the Clinton administration — Bikini Kill’s reunion isn’t a nostalgia trip so much as a necessary call for us all to fight a world on fire together. Hanna and her instrument-swapping bandmates (co-founders Kathi Wilcox and Tobi Vail, along with touring guitarist Sara Landeau) don’t just sound like a well-oiled war machine these days. Their raw message of self-reliance and female empowerment in the face of a faltering patriarchy is as relevant as it’s ever been.
Which isn’t to say that Hanna and Vail — the band’s sometime lead singer, who stepped in to slay tracks like “I Hate Danger,” “Tell Me So” and “Hamster Baby” — tried to draw a dividing line between Us and Them with 25 songs that snake and snarl around hooks that get straight to the heart of the matter. If anything, Bikini Kill are determined to spark an intergenerational stand against all the forces that are wary of true progress.
That includes anyone who has written off Generation Z as lazy, entitled or lacking substance. Hanna was particularly incredulous while recalling that common refrain out loud, giving fans born after the band’s first rodeo credit for educating her on matters of intersectionality and demanding more from an establishment that continues to fail us in more ways than one.
In that way, this show’s warm and welcoming vibe proved we’re all rebel girls now — no matter what age, gender or group. Turns out we all need each other, after all.
This Is Not a Test
Don’t Need You
I Hate Danger
In Accordance to Natural Law
Resist Psychic Death
I Like Fucking
Reject All American
Rah! Rah! Replica
Tell Me So
Suck My Left One
Double Dare Ya