Kathleen Hanna comes with a reputation and there’s a good reason this rescheduled show sold out long ago. Although Hanna’s music might lead some to believe she has moved on from the punk rock riot grrrl scene (she had a film made about her, 2013’s ‘The Punk Singer’ named after an early Julie Ruin song), she carries a lot of affection from the early do-it-yourself days. One fan brought roses which were thrown to the stage, leading Hanna to ask if she should take up ice-skating. But her attitude and approach still seem to connect her with that early feminism, much as John Lydon proclaims his punk credentials despite the swimming pool in LA and colourful suits. It was always about the attitude anyway.
Support at Concorde2 came from Brighton’s own Slum Of Legs, a band who are gaining well-deserved acclaim. This may have been their biggest gig yet but they totally owned the stage in front of an enthusiastic home crowd. Singer Tamsin was bursting with nervous energy, one moment stepping onto the speaker stand and the next kneeling down to scream lyrics at the front row. The whole band excelled, with Maria Marzaioli’s violin also earning praise from the headliners, and songs like ‘Doll Like’, first single ‘Begin To Dissolve’ and the astounding ‘Razorblade The Tape’ showed off the dynamic power of the band. An excellent performance that will only cement their growing reputation.
The Julie Ruin stepped onto the stage like a sixties fantasy girl garage band. They reminded this reviewer of Russ Meyer’s movie band Carrie Nations, a model adopted by a lot of girl bands, from The Like to the Dum Dum Girls, and it captures aspects of The Julie Ruin’s musical template. However, to the 60s girl group you would have to add some electro-pop and a dash of new wave. This band felt like a continuation of Le Tigre then rather than a return to the Bikini Kill days.
Le Tigre were a riot. The Julie Ruin’s new album, now a couple of years old, is also full of pop-punk classics played and sung with intelligence, energy and depth. Songs like lead track ‘Oh Come On’ and the sing-along ‘Ha Ha Ha’ (chorus – “ha ha ha Armageddon”) are as strong live as on record, the latter having the audience singing along at full voice. A particular standout on the album is ‘Just My Kind’, an intimate and affectionate love song to her partner, which if it weren’t so stunning in its honesty and openness might seem to contradict one of the unique selling points of Hanna’s music, being simple pop songs written by a woman for girls. Other songs like ‘Kids In New York’ also point to an autobiographical slant, recounting the spirit of writing fanzines, going on protests and making music in somebody’s garage.
However, ‘Run Fast’ provides another strong lyric that reaffirms Hanna’s political stance – it’s half a picture of what it was like being a girl in a band, half an attack on the behaviour of men in the alternative music scene (and everywhere). It’s not pop, it’s not a song by a girl about boys. Well it is those things, but it has that hard-edged independent feminist critique at its core. The closing line is a killer: “An X marks the spot where we decided we had just about had enough!”
That helps explain why The Julie Ruin are more than just another female-fronted power-pop band. They are also a powerful live act musically, with extra depth added by the vocals and keys of Kenny Mellman. There’s a warmth in the interplay between Kenny and Kathleen Hanna, and Kathleen and her former Bikini Kill bandmate Kathi Wilcox, who adds solid bass to the proceedings. A garage band with a punk edge, but not so rough as to be abrasive. This is a girl gang with chops. They should return to Brighton soon.
Concorde2, Sunday 24th May 2015
Words and photos by Jon Southcoasting