Published Jul 19, 2016The Julie Ruin killed last night (July 18) at Toronto's Lee's Palace. The pit was packed — with punks, feminists, yuppies, parents, boppers — and the air was thick with the smell of sweat, booze and potpourri. Kathleen Hanna was confrontational as ever. Kenny Mellman's keys were as fuzzy as a cat in a lint trap.
The Julie Ruin, fronted by Riot Grrrl originator Hanna — formerly of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre — is a bit of a different take on Hanna's early punk sounds. The hooks were brazen and the riffs — particularly those of guitarist Sarah Landeau — were just plain fun, while fellow Bikini Kill alumnus Kathi Wilcox is a groovier bass player than ever. The dynamics and live chemistry of the Julie Ruin drew shamelessly on pop sensibilities — surprising, perhaps, considering Hanna's early work.
That said, Hanna remains volatile. Angry and daring, Henna emotionally contorted her way through what may be some of her most personal and expressive work to date. She danced, at times like David Byrne on a jog, at other times like a Go-Go Dancer with a sardonic smile frantically stomping out an infestation of ants. Henna has got to be one of the most physically expressive performers in the biz.
The set started out a lacking a little panache. There was a strange amount of centre stage rummaging on Hanna's part before the first song began, which itself was a little ramshackle, but by the time the second song hit — a new one called "I Decide" — the Julie Ruin were in full swing. Kathleen Henna hit her stride from note one and never went back. The band set the bar mighty high with that song, and maintained that standard on songs like the explosive "Be Nice" and the early Julie Ruin single "Oh Come On," both of which were particular moments of furious magic.
The Julie Ruin were a wild ride musically, theatrically and personally. The band's banter — exclusively between Hanna and Kenny Mellman — was genuine and unpredictable. Most of the time they were surprisingly funny and light, swapping stories, jokes and exchanges with an engaged and often inaudible audience, but as with the subject matter of Hanna's new material, her engagement with the audience was also candid, and at some points dark. At points, she opened up to her fans about parental abuse and date rape.
With a sense of humour as dark and cutting as Hanna's, she couldn't help but attempt to take a bit of the edge off of the unhappy subjects, but she didn't need to: Her struggles are a deep part of where her art comes from, and the audience knew that and seemed grateful for the genuine gesture of sincerity. Hanna was literally moved to tears more than once during the show — once in response to a painting handed up from the stage by a fan, and once during the explanation of a song. The entire show was about as candid as concerts get.
The tour was in support of the Julie Ruin's new record, Hit Reset, and the show was — like the album — intense, honest, barbed and unforgettable.