The last time Kathleen Hanna performed music in San Francisco was over 8 years ago, opening for Beck at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. It was the first time I had gotten a chance to see her, after being consistently sold out of gigs for most of my life. Their 45 minute set was excellent, but I kept wanting more. I wanted a crowd that cared. Alas, I had to wait nearly a decade to see the woman that coined the phrases “Riot Grrl,” “Girl Power,” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” play a full set of music. Sure, I really wanted a Bikini Kill reunion, but getting her to dig up her old Julie Ruin moniker with fellow Bikini Killer Kathi Wilcox on board was a suitable replacement.
We were treated to a warm up set from LA’s La Sera. This project is was originally a side project of Vivian Girls. however frontwoman Katy Goodman has made this her full time project. Which, in my own humble opinion, was the right decision. Whenever I saw Vivian Girls live, I felt the show was lacking in energy. This was a whole other world, in comparison. Goodman was full of energy and charisma, and sounded great. The set consisted primarily of new material from a record coming out early next year, and that record is likely to be one of the best rock records of 2014.
By the time The Julie Ruin took the stage, the crowd was packed about as tightly as could be. It was one of the most diverse crowds I have ever seen at a rock show. We had young and old, with genders and ethnicities covering the entire spectrum. The one thing we all had in common was pure, unadulterated excitement over the performance we were about to enjoy. The band opened up with “V.G.I.”, a track off the first Julie Ruin record from 1998. This record wasn’t a band project, but a lofi electronic project that ended up being the precursor Hanna’s 00’s band Le Tigre. It’s a great record, and I was stoked to finally hear a track of this record live.
The majority of the set was a combination of material from Julie Ruin and The Julie Ruin. The differentiation is that Julie Ruin is a Kathleen Hanna solo project, where The Julie Ruin is a full band. Tonight, the songs that were recorded as Julie Ruin took on a brand new life, sounding much more vibrant and fuller than their lofi origins. The new tracks, which pulled together elements from Hanna’s riot grrl roots, electro era, and a touch of 70’s glam rock to the mix managed to sound even stronger when performed on stage.
Hanna herself was in amazing condition. She told the crowd that she was fighting Lyme Disease, but based on her youthful energy and spunk, one would have never realized she was ill. Her spirits were alive and well, and she still has those dance moves that reminded me of a cheerleader on Jolt cola. She doesn’t quite tap into the gutteral wail that was her trademark during the Bikini Kill era, but I suspect that has more to do with maturing as a singer and songwriter than it has to do with her abilities to let out a massive scream. The screaming was handled much more fluidly by the band’s keyboardist, Kenny Mellman. Mellman is commonly known in some circles as Herb in the popular gender bending cabaret duo Kiki and Herb. Tonight, he was tasked with the difficult task of overshadowing one of the most important figures in popular music. And he did it with gusto. If Hanna was a cheerleader on Jolt, Mellman was a cheerleader on speed. He barely kept his feet on the floor during the approx 1:15 of performance. Whenever he went to the mic, he shouted out like lyrics like he was a the perfect synthesis of Fred Schneider, Chuck D, and Frank Black.
Hanna’s banter was also prima. She would tell stories between each song. Some were serious, some were goofy (she felt the need to show that her underwear made her look like she had “barbie vagina” which is basically non at all). She told some dark tales about coping with addiction and relapse. She told jokes, rambled about nonsense. It was a glorious and joyful time.
The biggest surprise of the night was a song called “Pretty Is.” This was a stunning power ballad co written by Sharon Cheslow back in 1992. She also played a stunning ballad called Apartment #5. She actually teared up for these two songs. It was a beautiful and heartfelt; the perfect example of how honest a performer could be.
Girls Like Us
Radical or Pro-parental
South Coast Plaza
Eau d’Bedroom Dancing (The only Le Tigre nod of the evening)
Kids in NY
Breakout a Town
Oh Come On