Bikini Kill @ The Tivoli
Despite performing sporadically since 2019, few local Bikini Kill fans would have expected the legendary feminist punks to return to these shores. Given their almost thirty-year absence, it was no surprise the all-ages show at Brisbane’s The Tivoli sold out well in advance. Playing to a packed house diverse in age and gender, with local trans-punks Queerbait providing support.
Eva, Queerbait’s singer and guitarist, provided the most powerful moment of the night when she took pause to read out the name of every trans person murdered across the globe, in 2023 alone. Despite the actions of one ignorant heckler, the audience matched Eva’s courage with silence and respect. At four pages long it was a shocking and solemn reminder of the violence directed at the trans community on a daily basis. Actions like this that highlight the sufferings of marginalised communities did much to cement Queerbait’s place as not only a worthy support for Bikini Kill, but an ideological equal.
Musically, Queerbait are heavily indebted to nineties' alternative and punk rock, falling somewhere between the better moments of Placebo’s self-titled album and and early Smashing Pumpkins. Queerbait play with an intensity matched only by their earnestness. By set’s end their entire stock of merch was sold out, evidence they clearly, and deservedly, made fans of much of the audience.
Lacking none of the passion and ferocity of their recordings, Bikini Kill did not let up for the duration of their ninety-minute set. Opening with Double Dare Ya and closing with Suck My Left One, before returning briefly for a rousing encore of Rebel Girl, arguably their most iconic song.
Featuring Kathleen Hanna on vocals, Kathi Wilcox on bass and Tobi Vail on drums, the band were joined by touring guitarist Sara Landeau, as original guitarist Billy Karren opted out of the reunion shows. Clearly enjoying themselves, the band regularly traded instruments and Vail assumed vocal duties on several tracks including Hamster Baby and I Hate Danger.
Across the twenty-plus songs there was no shortage of memorable moments. No entry in their discography was ignored and the setlist encompassed tracks from 1991’s, Revolution Girl Style Now! through their 1996 swan song, Reject All American. Performed at the frenetic pace Bikini Kill are famous for, Carnival, Sugar and Resist Psychic Death were short, fast and to the point. Reject All American, the title track from their final album, with its repetitive, catchy chorus, was an early set highlight, whilst Outta Me was particularly impactful as the only slow song in the set.
Hanna is a formidable front woman, charismatic, magnetic and surprisingly, hilarious. Between anecdotes recalling the band’s response to their early critics, “We can’t play our instruments, so? If you think you can do better do something better,” she regularly had the audience in stitches. Introducing a song as being about “Fucking someone you shouldn’t be fucking,” Hanna catches herself, adding, “Sorry to all the kids in the audience, but I won’t be censored. Parents, this is your teaching moment for the car ride home.”
Vail deserves special mention for being genuinely inspiring every time she stepped up to the microphone. Dedicating one track to “Everyone who is going to go home and start a band tomorrow” and later addressing the importance of supporting local music and independent venues, advising, “If you do nothing, nothing happens.” These moments, sincere in their positivity, reinforce the power of music and the role it can play in providing a foundation for local communities of like-minded individuals.
Despairingly, it deserves mention that many of the issues that Bikini Kill historically railed against still affect women and other marginalised communities. Sexism and gender inequality run rife through all facets of society. Racism, homophobia and sexual violence are everyday occurrences and women’s reproductive rights have recently suffered substantial setbacks in multiple countries.
Despite this grim outlook, Bikini Kill’s feminist activism and DIY legacy continue to inspire not just young young women, but individuals of all genders to pick up instruments, publish zines, engage in activism and in general, express themselves on their own terms. Bands like Bikini Kill and individuals like Kathleen Hanna are needed now more than ever. Strong voices that are not afraid to call out injustice and openly advocate for change.
Seeing Bikini Kill live, in all their feral, feminine glory was something long considered unlikely, even impossible. Thankfully, the band are not done yet, returning to the stage to demonstrate, despite a gap of nearly three decades, that they have lost none of their relevance. More importantly, they still possess the righteous rage and candid honesty that made them such a force to reckoned with on their original run.
- Nick Stephan.