Bikini Kill Wove Story and Song in Toronto

Danforth Music Hall, April 14

With CB Radio Gorgeous

Photo: Stephen McGill

BY Sydney BrasilPublished Apr 15, 2023

"Sorry for the wait — the two-year wait," Kathleen Hanna beamed at 9:15. The set was meant to start at 9:00, but the sweetness in this dual apology conveyed deep gratitude. Though Bikini Kill's North American tour had been rife with postponements since 2019, the riot grrrls quickly assured the Danforth Music Hall that they were just as happy as we were to finally be there, even on the second night of their Toronto run.

After jokingly mistaking Carly Rae Jepsen as the author of Rebecca Black's "Friday," Hanna sharply led her band into "Double Dare Ya." This back-and-forth of song, quip and contemplation defined the evening, as Bikini Kill's stories were hung onto as tightly as their songs.

As Hanna and drummer Tobi Vail took turns as vocalists, they shared vignettes that were truly of the moment — a touch about how the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is bogus, a roast of guitar bros who don't cheer at shows and, more sweetly, a nod to a local icon. When talking about Vail's Jigsaw — the first activist zine that ever influenced her — Hanna paid homage to the art of "Toronto legend" G.B. Jones, insisting the city's queer community had a profound influence on her.

One story that lingered was one from 1979. After she earned an award in the sixth grade, a boy in Hanna's class pulled down her dress. The crowd's supportive jeers grew stronger as she detailed the isolation she felt, and each time she revisited the story, she came back with a stronger self-narrative. By its last mention, the crowd joined in on her chanting "Suck My Left One" in catharsis.

Through this deep anger, Hanna's howls and throaty shrieks were effortless as she danced and swayed with passion. Thirty years out from their conception, Bikini Kill was as tight as ever — perhaps better now after years of growing from their DIY roots. This was especially wholesome as the age-diverse crowd experienced Bikini Kill's newfound prime at the same moment. From Gen Xers who came to during third-wave feminism, to young girls under 10, there was a camaraderie through these songs and stories that everyone related to.

This generational range also reflected the evolution of Bikini Kill's own ideals. Hanna and Vail both shared what they've learned from the younger fourth wave, incorporating more complex ideas of gender into their philosophies. While the original riot grrrl movement had its limitations, its commanders are clearly not above change and accountability.

At one point, someone yelled from the crowd, "You made us who we are," to which Hanna replied, "You made you who you are." She talked of songs being there for people at the right time, and while she acknowledged her hand in that for others, she insisted her intentions were never that altruistic: "I did it for myself."

Still, Bikini Kill's influence on us all was palpable as the crowd erupted during the one-track encore of "Rebel Girl." Suddenly, we were all back to the moment Bikini Kill found us — for me, it was watching The Punk Singer as a 16-year-old, newly confident in my bisexuality and convictions, soon to enter the DIY scene in my own right. "Punk is not a genre, it's an idea and it's about connection," Hanna said earlier in the night, and with her own self-assurances in hand, she and Bikini Kill seem to know the impact they've had not only on other riot grrrls, but also themselves. 

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