Bikini Kill perform in a sold-out show at The Fillmore Silver Spring on April 4, 2023. (Photo by David LaMason)
“I was the one who got the ‘vid,” Kathleen Hanna told the sold-out crowd on Tuesday night at The Fillmore Silver Spring.
“And I was in a hotel staring at the Whole Foods grocery, sadly, I couldn’t make it… every evening there’d be this rainbow over Whole Foods, and I kept thinking, ‘Is this beautiful or really, really ugly?’”
And with that the band that defined “riot grrrl” and influenced generations of punk rock to follow returned to the DC area, the first time since 1996! Kathleen, the once Maryland resident and singer for Bikini Kill, along with Tobi Vail (drums/vocals) and Kathi Wilcox (bass) have been icons of rock since 1990 when the band formed in Olympia, Washington, and kicked off a movement with others like Go Team and Babes in Toyland that spotlighted female empowerment in the midst of machismo rock posturing.
The last time I was fortunate enough to witness Bikini Kill was at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1994 with the legendary Baltimore band Womyn of Destruction opening. Now, my memory being what it is, there isn’t a lot of detail rattling around upstairs, but I do remember the feeling of that night, and having that chance to see them again brought that feeling kicking back to the front of my brain.
And this was a reunion we’ve been waiting on for a few years since the Covid pandemic put the brakes on tours and then postponements due to illness pushed things a little further out.
And you couldn’t have picked a better day to welcome the return of Bikini Kill. With the last remnants of Winter feeling like a distant memory on April 4, a Tuesday at The Fillmore Silver Spring felt more like the weekend as the line to get into the venue stretched around the block. On the first of two nights at The Fillmore Silver Spring, the opening set by Brontez Purnell — author, dancer, and punk rocker — was fun and got the quickly filling hall moving.
Here are photos of Brontez Purnell opening for Bikini Kill at The Fillmore Silver Spring:
As Bikini Kill took the stage along with Sara Landeau (guitar), a member of the Julie Ruin along with Hanna, there was no slowing down from the first note of “New Radio” through “Don’t Need You.” It was a whirlwind of sound until, taking a brief pause in between songs, Hanna told the crowd how the band was, for a brief time, based in Washington, DC, and how she continues to be informed by feminism as one person from the crowd called out, “You taught me!”
Switching things up a bit, Tobi Vail took to the mic while Kathleen picked up the bass and Kathi took over the drum kit for “I Hate Danger,” as Tobi told the crowd, “It’s about growing up in a male-dominated scene in Olympia, Washington.”
“They want us to be fighting each other. Cause then it’s easier to pick us off,” Kathleen Hanna said. “We need to challenge each other and we need to have conversations and arguments.”
A common theme, if you want to call it that, in Bikini Kill’s music is this sense of being in it together — creating a community across the globe that is both a call to action and a cry in the wilderness that says, “Hey, we are here for you.” That feeling was in full display both on the stage and off where tables were set up with ‘zines and other information for folks to not only become informed but to forge new bonds with other fans.
Kathleen described the scene she grew up in and meeting Tobi: “So we’re from a small town Olympia, Washington… Tobi was in a band called Go Team. I saw her walking on the street when I was drinking coffee and I was like, ‘Oh my god that’s the coolest mf’ing girl I’ve ever seen.’ I was so lucky to be in that town at that time.”
And we in the audience were lucky to be witness to Bikini Kill and the return of the coolest mf’ing women we have ever seen. Even Kathleen was surprised at how positive even the “hecklers” in the crowd were. After yells of “You rock!” or “You’re awesome!” Hanna exclaimed, “I’m so glad you’re a positive heckler.”
And a lot of that positivity seemed to flow both ways, as the songs in this extensive list like “Reject All American,” “Jigsaw Youth,” and closers “Double Dare Ya” and “Rebel Girl” had tireless energy.
After Bikini Kill’s second night on Thursday, the band continues their reunion tour through North America, and it’s one not to miss.
Here are more photos of Bikini Kill performing at the Fillmore Silver Spring on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.