Live Review: Kathleen Hanna at Neptune Theatre 4/29/15

Local Music, Live Reviews
05/05/2015
Janice Headley
all photos by Shasta Bree

"Girls to the front!" This was the mantra for feminist artist Kathleen Hanna when she fronted the influential punk band Bikini Kill in the '90s. Twenty-five years later, Hanna is on tour, presenting the lecture Riot Grrl: Then and Now, and the girls were down in front at the Neptune Theatre, excited to hear from this inspiring icon. Fans had driven from all over the Northwest, including Bellingham and Hanna's former home of Olympia, natch. Before the theatre even opened for this sold out event, the line to get in had stretched all the way across the street into that building's plaza.

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"I often hear from young women who say, 'I wish I had been there in the '90s,' and I think, no, you really don't!" Hanna joked in her girlish voice (which Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker described as "valley girl" in 2013's fantastic biopic The Punk Singer). And it's true: I personally tend to romanticize the '90s and the "riot grrl" era. But as Hanna pointed out, the "girls to the front" call to action was as much about female empowerment as it was about creating a barrier between the band and the male audience members, who would bring violence and sexual harassment to shows.IMG_5238

"Everywhere Bikini Kill played, people just wanted to beat us up," she recalled. A guy threw a chain at her face. She performed a show with mace in her eyes. But for Hanna, it was just more impetus to keep going, keep touring, and keep encouraging women. Her confessional lyrics and fanzines, combined with her background in sexual and domestic violence counseling from Olympia's SafePlace, made her an anchor in the scene.

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Riot Grrl: Then and Now ("I don't know why I called it that, I'm mostly talking about me, me, me!" Hanna chirped) looks at both the failures and successes of the scene. What started as an underground zine, became a grass-roots movement, that became a worldwide media phenomenon. Newsweek reported on the scene. MTV and Sassy Magazine began to cover it. And then, remember that episode of the television show Roseanne when they picked up a "riot grrrl" hitchhiker? The spotlight, and ensuing misrepresentation in the media, 'caused the scene to dissipate as quickly as it had first caught on.

Hanna encouraged the audience to find their own community, adding, "But don't call it 'riot grrl' — you can come up with a better name than that!" Before ending the evening, she encouraged us to introduce ourselves to a stranger seated in our row and make a connection. (I didn't see anyone actually do this, but, hey, I didn't actually do it either.)

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Hanna wrapped up her lecture by performing the Le Tigre song "Hot Topic" karaoke-style in front of the zine-collage-style video by Wynne Greenwood. The song rattles off a list of feminist artists, like herself, with the encouraging chorus, "Don't you stop." It was a perfect coda to the evening. We won't stop, Kathleen.

"So many rules and so much opinion So much bullshit but we won't give inStop, we won't stopDon't you stop"

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Kathleen Hanna returns to Seattle this summer with her band The Julie Ruin, performing July 25th at the Capitol Hill Block Party. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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