by Chantal-Marie Wright
Photos by Kate Hoos
“I always find the people not smiling,” Kathleen Hanna told the sold-out crowd at Terminal 5 in Manhattan June 1. “I’m gonna make you smile.”
There were no lack of smiles, from the band or the fans, at the fourth show of Bikini Kill’s reunion tour, their second in NYC. Even as Hanna joked that she was a “hypocrite and an asshole” for expecting others to grin when she did not, her joy was palpable.
The reformed band, consisting of original members Hanna, Tobi Vail, and Kathi Wilcox, with guitarist Erica Dawn Lyle, blasted their way through a high-impact, 26 song set, beginning with “This Is Not A Test” and including favorites like “New Radio,” “Feels Blind,” and “Carnival.”
Musically, the band was vibrant, and the set was tight. The driving rhythm of Wilcox and Vail working in tandem held down the faster songs while loping ably through slower numbers. Lyle’s crisp guitar work gelled perfectly with the founding members of the band.
One oft-overlooked aspect of Bikini Kill is their ability to change up instruments, and they did throughout the night, with Hanna taking over on bass while Vail helmed the microphone, and both Lyle and Wilcox showing their chops on the drums.
Hanna’s sing-shouting voice still soars, and her intensity only grew throughout the set, culminating in “Rebel Girl,” complete with rainbow lights (it was, in fact, the first night of Pride Month) and a blistering encore of “Double Dare Ya” and “Suck My Left One.” A second encore of “For Tammy Rae” closed out the night.
The energy was different from the frenetic, often confrontational performances of the early 90s (available on YouTube if you weren’t lucky enough to catch them in their heyday,) which is to be expected of not only a more mature band, but of an adoring crowd who paid good money to see their heroes. Punk ethos still ruled the day, from Hanna’s dismay over the “”white supremacist in the White House” to Vail urging fans to support DIY.
Bikini Kill were of course on the forefront of the Riot Grrrl movement, and there were women young and old in the audience singing along fervently. But “girls to the front” was here more a celebration than a call to action, and in such a packed venue would have been difficult, in any case.
“When there were three women there, and guys wanted to kick our asses, you bet I said girls to the front,” Hanna noted at one point, responding to a call out from a fan somewhere in the crowd. “It’s a different world now, everyone’s welcome at a Bikini Kill show.” Turns out, the fans were only calling for their friend to move forward because they had lost sight of her.
Hanna still has her finger on the pulse of the world, however. In a funny but poignant moment, she noted how these days we may wake up wanting to chant rise above! (“that was a terrible Black Flag impression, I sounded like Annie”), but other days it’s all we can do to just drag ourselves out of bed. “We’re all here together, tonight, and I hope we can celebrate all the amazing wonderful activism and social change that is happening, and that we’re not gonna let the fuckers win, clearly!”
Bikini Kill were supported on this date by Sammus, who kickstarted the night singing and rapping her soul-baring lyrics over rolling rhythms. The Ithaca-based artist was clearly moved by the opportunity, and the audience seemed to appreciate the set. As did Hanna, who was spotted by our photographer rocking out backstage, and let the latecomers know they’d missed a great performance.
Chantal-Marie Wright is a New York-based musician and writer currently playing bass with Fisty as well as living out her teenage dreams in various cover bands.
Kate Hoos is an NYC-based photographer, writer, and punk who plays bass in Cop/Out and guitar in Space Bitch. In her spare time, she can be found with her nose in a book or hanging out with her cats (usually both). Find her at hoosatron.com.
THIS IS NOT A TEST
DON’T NEED YOU
I HATE DANGER
TELL ME SO
RESIST PSYCHIC DEATH
DOUBLE DARE YA
SUCK MY LEFT ONE
FOR TAMMY RAE