Le Tigre/Sister Mary Rotten Crotch/Red Letter
Even at its best, modern punk rock tends to lack real revolutionary content. Bands such as Good Riddance, Propagandhi, and Anti-Flag produce smart, well-written politically charged songs, then set them to the same catchy light-speed backdrops preferred by groups that sing about farts, mullets, and sex-change operations. But Le Tigre is the rare animal ambitious enough to make the medium as subversive as the message, with Kathleen Hanna’s vocals and guitar riffs just part of the fabric in an extensive collage that incorporates keyboards, claves, and, on this night, a multi-purpose megaphone recently purchased from Radio Shack.
Opening with “Let’s Run,” a guitar-driven piece with a bouncy beat that gave Hanna ample cause to frolic, Le Tigre delivered energetic interpretations of its sample-heavy tunes. While Hanna hopped, mugged, jumproped, and sang in a style much more histrionic than on the album, Le Tigre’s mostly pre-programmed grooves stirred the crowd to action. However, the trio had more on its mind than hosting a dance party. Le Tigre paired the mesmerizing instrumental “Slideshow at Free University” with cut-and-pasted news items about various battles against impression, then contrasted such noble images with inane T-shirts bearing slogans such as “Shut Up, Bitch!” Later, Hanna delivered a heartfelt speech about activism, relating how she cried alone in her apartment before discovering other activists and getting involved in various protests. The group then delivered an intense non-album track about Amadou Diallo, counting aloud to 41 in reference to the 41 shots fired at the unarmed African-American by New York policemen, before ending on a positive note with “Hot Topic,” a partial roll call of activists, artists, and feminist voices that was paired with a slide show featuring many individuals (Cyndi Lauper, Public Enemy) who were left off the initial list.
Although it was decidedly one of the year’s better shows from a purely musical standpoint, with Le Tigre’s infectious new-wave-influenced tunes becoming even more irresistible in a live setting, what made this concert particularly important is its probable aftermath. Hanna’s former band Bikini Kill is fondly remembered for its emotional, incendiary garage rock, but what ensured the group’s legacy is its status as the band that launched a thousand zines. Bikini Kill inspired countless fans to create their own art, and Le Tigre has the power to do the same, with Hanna’s campaign to get more women involved in producing electronic music resulting in a few new Casio converts at each tour stop. Punk springs from a do-it-yourself ethic, and while it’s admirable that Hanna keeps this spirit alive in her work, what truly makes her a punk icon is her ability to fuel the D.I.Y. flame in her fans.
Promoting its own brand of girl power was Sister Mary Rotten Crotch, whose members expressed some doubts before the show about their ability to speak to the riot grrrl set. Perhaps because of such concerns, the quartet exerted extra effort, with its bassist Brent (or Tammy, as the rest of the group lovingly refers to him) shouting his backing vocals with added conviction and always-explosive singer Liz Nord turning her white-hot act up a notch. Drummer Amy Farrand revealed midway through the set that her left hand had recently been slammed in a car door, but the effect on her drumming was apparently minimal as she rocketed through the setlist in her usual commanding manner. Even if the audience was a bit frightened by Sister Mary (and there were plenty of nervous titters when Nord introduced “one of our many songs about people who’ve been killed”), it seemed to appreciate the music, and some of the onlookers even started to move, albeit timidly, to the breakneck beats.
By contrast, Red Letter, instead of scaring the crowd, seemed scared of it. Members of the group either stared in a doe-eyed daze at the audience or offered an eerily blank expression. The group closed with its best effort musically, a stop-and-start anti-rape number reminiscent of Bikini Kill’s “White Boy,” but singer Megan Kasten lost much of the cynical crowd when she less-than-eloquently prefaced the song by saying “This song’s about rape. We don’t like it, it’s not good.” Though Hanna might have recognized the riff structure to that number, even she probably couldn’t recognize Red Letter’s cover of “Panic,” a tune by Bikini Kill’s peers Bratmobile that was reprised here in an intriguing but unnecessarily long fashion. The band recently added a new drummer, who pushes their songs along at a faster pace, but such personnel changes probably contributed to its occasional sloppiness, especially towards the end of its songs. Kasten’s voice continues to develop, but her sporadic ear-shattering screams hurt Red Letter more than they help it; not testaments to raw rage like Hanna and Babe in Toyland Kat Bjelland’s eruptions, they’re simply annoying. Nonetheless, Hanna was undoubtedly pleased to witness yet another young woman moved to action by the riot-grrl era take the stage, and Kasten’s lyrics, though occasionally indelicately phrased, prove she absorbed the activism as well as the musical style