The 90’s politically charged electro pop band called Le Tigre have reunited after almost two decades away from our loving embrace and returned to their NYC home ground for a trio of sold out shows at Brooklyn Steel to close out their tour. We caught the second show on Friday night, and it was a truly remarkable experience to witness the love return to the hearts of their fans. The show included a lot of much-younger devotees, which led me to believe they must have some hit dance videos on Tiktok or something, but it was nonetheless fun to have their youthful energies charge up the night even more than the older geriatric devotees and their already uncontainable excitement. The band was originally the creation of Riot Grrrl icon and feminist punk frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, who had played an integral part in the 90’s garage-loving grunge scene with her Olympia, Washington -based band Bikini Kill. That genre, of course, exploded in the mid-90’s, even though the Riot Grrrl world still never really received the attention it deafeningly deserved. They loudly raged against the patriarchal dip-shit corporate machine well before it was cool, and helped women find a voice in a world that seemed determined to squash their hopes and dreams. After Bikini Kill band broke up in 1998, she was set adrift on the NYC scene and felt the need for a change, and after a time doing simple homemade music under the moniker of Julie Ruin, she decided she wanted to get out and party more. She ended up forming this feminist dance band called LeTigre that was a stark change from the drab and angry punk of her youth, as this outfit was full of colorful artistic expression and groovy beats, but still had a lot to say about the oppressively conservative hell of the George W Bush America. Hanna befriended Johanna Fateman as a fellow zine maker and lover in the 90’s, and the two finally decided to make a band with a similar loud and proud voice together, with the addition of Sadie Benning, who was soon replaced by their projectionist, fellow artist, and LGBT fighter JD Samson, and together this trio fought the patriarchy for several years and three albums before abruptly finishing their 2005 tour due to “exhaustion” and soon after going on permanent hiatus. This condition turned out to be the first indicators of a very serious debilitating case of Lyme disease Hanna had contracted which stopped her from continuing a music career for many years, despite her obvious desire to return to dance and sing on stage again. In 2010 she emerged again, showing renewed strength and health with a newly expanded version of her Julie Ruin act, and in 2016 Le Tigre briefly made a comeback with a pro–Hillary Clinton single “I’m With Her,” but then Hanna went off for an extended reunion with her other band Bikini Kill that has continued touring well in through earlier this year. Finally, however, it is time for these three luminaries to take back the limelight and get a chance to shine brightly like they should have before their time in the sun was cut short by Hanna’s tragic health problems.
Opening the show was Shamir, an artist that I’ve seen play several times in the last couple years, and he always surprises me, as his music can often swing abruptly from drastically different styles like hip-hop, country, and even industrial, but he always plays it with a quietly low-key falsetto voice that belies his amazingly bright and stunning fashion sense that always knocks me out. This Philly-via-Vegas shapeshifting musician is releasing a new album Homo Anxietatem in August, and it was great to hear some of the new material and older tracks with a real backing rhythm section, as I have usually seen him play as a one-person solo act, and it made his neurotically anxious songs feel more fully developed and actualized. He has had mental troubles that have actually landed him in the psych ward before, so he definitely knows about the head health troubles that so many of us experience but can never fully illuminate or explain, and his lyrics can hit so close to the bone that they produce chills and goosebumps aplenty.
Le Tigre came out and made it clear from the start they were there to have good time. The three played to a backdrop of bright and colorful graphics that were fun and edgy but never overbearing, even with every song having the lyrics displayed in real time in big letters across the top of the screen as they played, which seemed a bit much at first, but something I did soon get into as it made me remember how much of an absolute blast their song’s wacky verses are. They played the part of the pointed party band very well by liberally goofing around the stage, sometimes doing some silly off-the-cuff choreographed dance numbers, or even skipping rope during one of the last songs, but they always seem to nail the intended fun of the festivities and seriousness of the message of each classic track. All three took turns fronting the songs, and from opening the show with the awesome “The The Empty,” this band had the party going and it just kept getting hotter with smashers like “TKO.” “Hot Topic,” “My My Metrocard,” “Eau d’Bedroom Dancing,” and outrageous encore of “Phanta” and “Deceptacon” that had the whole venue jumping up and down in earth-shattering unison. Hanna recounted how wild it was playing songs on big stages they rehearsed in a tiny basement in Chinatown that was The Beastie Boys studio while they were on tour (yes, she is married to the BB’s Ad-Rock), but it brought back their DIY foundation into closer focus. Sometimes bands reunite for money and/or a chance to reclaim a bit of fame, but in cases like LeTigre, they can also have a message that is more relevant and needed today than it was back in their day, and in to the hellish world we live in today we need some serious enlightenment, with Queer rights being squashed all over the country, women’s reproductive rights being slashed, toxic masculinity becoming more prevalent than ever, and fascism and white supremacy on a nightmarish rise, this band’s call to dance away the demons could not be more more needed than it is today.
Article/Images: Dean Keim