Sunday September 24th, 2000 at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
Le Tigre, Invincible, Sister Mary Rotten Crotch, Red Letter.
Megan Kasten of Red Letter asked me if I could get her band on this bill, and since I knew Jacki was fishing for an opening band, the connection was pretty easy to make. Not only is it always good to have someone owe you a debt of gratitude, but I thought Megan getting to play a show with someone who had such a great affect on her life was pretty cool. However when Megan opened their set by thanking me for getting them on the bill, the public ramifications of this endorsement started to get to me. Rita had already asked me "I heard these guys suck so Im going to go record shopping" and the first word I heard from Amber after their set was "Do you like these guys?" with all the worst insinuations imaginable. Ouch.
I think it probably comes down to a matter of expectations. 20% of the audience was there to see a polished pop band with original hooks and the remaining 80% in attendance to witness a frontwoman they regard as a deity. If that is the measuring stick, then no band is going to impress.
With Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna encouraged grrls to pick up musical instruments and make their own music revolution grrl style right? Megan of Red Letter heeded that call and with her current line up (long time collaborator Matt Miller on guitar, along with two new faces Gina Chenault on bass, and Rachael Meyers on drums) ran through a collection of sloppy poppy punk songs.
Sure, the whole band was nervous and no one moved around much, Megan said some silly things between songs (highlight was "And we dont like rape") and the band missed a few of the changes, but none of that used to matter when punk meant everything to me. Quick tempo songs with bounce and hooks, pop in the right places, offset by snarls in others, and DIY ethic make this band a winner for me. Maybe Im too easy to please.
Sister Mary Rotten Crotch were up next and quickly moved the shows guts meter from "timid" to "tiger". Liz Nord, frontwoman for this mostly-grrl Kansas City punk mainstay, is responsible for every bit of that growl. She is terrifying and macho in an unobtainably sexual way -- a way that seems to wow the gals as much (if not more) than the guys. Her vocals are rough and screamed (not high, but low and forceful), and in truth its all a little frightening and totally unexpected from a tiny wommin wearing a short catholic school grrl skirt and knee high socks.
While Liz may be the image and voice of the band, drummer/backing vocalist Amy Farrand is the bands guts. Her drumming is always tight and rapid, while never overplaying her kit. When she is given a chance to show off, her sensibilities are great. Guitarist Alison Saunders provides the direction and melody for songs with a few (very few) chords used to maximum efficiency. However just when you have her pegged the band will play a song with a lighting fast notey intro or a bridge will begin with a barrage of nimble-fingered notery. Adding the bottom end and the glue to all these ladies is bassist Brent Kastler who is kept in his place a number of ways. There are no real bass solos, he doesn't hop around the stage in competition with Liz, they refer to him as Tammy, and finally hes forced to wear a skirt. Yep, thats right, forced to. I have heard rumours about how he was jumped into the band, and frankly as a man, I hope theyre not true.
The audience packed in close for the bands show and although Sister Mary had its moments of slop (ole nimble fingers up there flubbed a few), they were intense, professional and definitely entertaining. They ended their set with their only cover a radically reworked version of The Lords Of Acids Show Me Your Pussy. The song gives Liz a chance to thrust her hips and gives the audience a chance to simultaneously blush and cheer.
The audience was blind-sided when Kathleen Hanna walked on stage after Sister Mary and asked the audience if they liked hiphop. When youre in a Sister Mary-mindset, hiphop is generally the last thing on your mind (with sex, fighting and beer being at the top) and the audience responded appropriately. With only a half-hearted endorsement New York emcee Invincible bounded onto the stage grasping a microphone. Invincible is part of an all-grrl crew of turntablists, emcees, graffiti artists and break dancers out of NYC, however on this night she was on her own.
Although I think we can all see Hannas vision in bringing Invincible along, you have to understand the realities. For 95% of the show attending world, Kathleen Hanna means Bikini Kill and Bikini Kill means punk rock. No matter how much Invincible tried to get the audience clapping or dancing or participating in any way, only a handful obliged. This in effect killed the show's vibe and at that point it didnt matter how well her rhymes flowed or what message they contained, it wasnt going to work.
If youre not able to lose yourself in the moment, and youre not in the setting to appreciate the sheer importance of independent wimmin in hip-hop, youre bound to over analyze and be critical. Ill try to keep it brief and say that the beats (provided by a mini-disc I believe) were never that fresh, and the rhymes were that sort of pop-referential candy that youll see on MTVs Lyrical Lounge. Some of the pieces were heavy with a message, others were the sort of fluff where the rapper tells you how they gots mad skills. Although in theory (the same theory that Hanna banked on) I support this 100%, when standing in front of the stage, I hoped it would be over soon.
It was obvious the crowd wasnt there for Invincible, but interestingly enough, the audience seemed to be there first for Kathleen Hanna and second for Le Tigre. The number of little indie pop kids who might actually own the Le Tigre album were far outweighed by the riot grrls and ex-riot grrls who own every album with Kathleen Hanna on it, which were in turn overshadowed by the number of by the punk rockers who have heard Bikini Kill. Following, nearly half the audience were surprised by a choreographed stage show featuring sequencers, samplers, drum machines and keyboards. Some got it, others just laughed. Again, it comes down to a matter of expectations.
Exclusionary possibly, but the punkers are right. Although Le Tigre are creating a new quirky pop by meshing the kitchy new-wave 80s, a punk ethic, and a new underground lo-fi electronic aesthetic, it is not punk. To the punks it was three grrls on stage singing and dancing (and jumping rope) to pre-recorded music and adding only occasional bits of guitar or synthesizer fluff.
Misguided expectations aside, this was a professional show given by honest and direct performers who seem to have tired of conforming to what people expect anyway. For every un-punk element such as Hanna and her unidentified keyboardist (who was filling in for the ill Sadie Benning) changing into non-matching devo-style jumpsuits for the show, or how Hanna seemed to have taken her dance moves directly from Belinda Carlisle or possibly a USA up-all-night showing of Valley Girl, there were overtly punk moments. The band consistently calls out for activism and shares their own vision and resources, they work hard to remove the barrier between the audience and the performers, and their slide show was not only visually stimulating but educational as well.
When the band were called out for an encore, Hanna took the opportunity to get personal with the crowd discussing her own conflicts that arise from an artist-v-activist dichotomy. Again she called out to the audience to announce local gatherings, protests, vigils etc. When the last song began Hanna was visibly shaken with tearful eyes, and she had to ask the recording to be rewound and begun again before she was ready to sing. That fact alone should illustrate how genuine Le Tigre really is.