On Saturday, April 22, Bikini Kill – Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox, Tobi Vail, and touring guitarist Sara Landeau – stopped by The Salt Shed ready to fight right-wing threats, learn from the next generation, and conjure memories of epic “basement parties” of the past with a fiery 25-song setlist.
For their first performance back in Chicago since their blistering headlining set at Riot Fest 2019, the Riot Grrrl icons began with the ever-timely trifecta of “New Radio,” “This Is Not a Test,” and “Don’t Need You.” Before jumping into “Alien She,” Hanna addressed the crowd for the first time of the night to honor the efforts of feminist pioneers like Billie Jean King – who was instrumental in the success of Title IX and prohibiting sex-based discrimination in school sports and other fields – and thank the “attentive” crowd for continuing to fight for equality in new ways.
“While so many things have gone so fucking backwards – and history is obviously not linear – each of us can make a fucking difference,” she said. “There’s so much stuff that people in this audience have going on, that you all are doing. I really want to celebrate that.”
Celebrate they did, though there was also a shared sense of purpose marinating in the venue. One could feel the unspoken agreement that – while there is a lot of work to do to combat all of the recent legislative and judicial attacks on reproductive heath, gender-affirming care, and democracy in general – tonight was a time to dance and recharge in order to rise to fight another day.
“Carnival” sent the whole floor into a frenzy and Hanna’s ferocious vocals on “Resist Psychic Death” were guided into the heart’s of fans by Wilcox’s driving bass and Vail’s relentless drums. On songs like “I Hate Danger,” “In Accordance to Natural Law,” and “For Only,” the band members traded instruments with Hanna working the bass, Wilcox sitting behind the kit, and Vail taking over vocal duties. Vail also reminisced about the past and the band’s 1990s-era show at Fireside Bowl. The old-west musicality and puppy love lyrics of “For Tammy Rae” also made for a highlight of the night as did the dance party that was “Reject All American.”
Chicago’s own Ganser opened the show with a party-starting set of their own. Sophie Sputnik – of Waltzer – replaced Nadia Garofalo in the band earlier this year and the chemistry between her and Alicia Gaines, Brian Cundiff, and Charlie Landsman was absolutely electric. Sputnik’s vocal prowess was on display all set long, especially during the wry, sprawling “Lucky.” Gaines and Cundiff were the song’s superheros, laying an unbreakable foundation on which Landsman was free to unleashed controlled chaos with every riff.
It was clear that the members of Ganser were just as excited as the crowd was to witness Bikini Kill in action and Hanna and company didn’t just live up to the hype, they annihilated it. Before closing out the setlist with favorites including “Rebel Girl,” “Double Dare Ya,” and “Suck My Left One,” Hanna took time out to thank younger fans for sharing their knowledge and teaching previous gens about new fights, as well as understanding the importance of growing, collaborating, and learning from our mistakes together.
Introducing “Jigsaw Youth,” she said, “I really hope all of our generations can get together and fuck up these fucking right wing assholes.”
By the sounds of the cheers in the room, the generations have already united.
(Photos by Laurie Fanelli)