The Julie Ruin
Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2013
Slim's 333 Club
Kathleen Hanna is wearing a blue and pink housedress onstage at Slim's and quipping about how her 44-year-old self would be sitting in the balcony for a show like this. Some young fan up front is spooning out compliments so lush that Hanna can't take 'em without a laugh. You're the number-one feminist! the fan says. Hanna demurs.
But almost everything that the riot grrrl progenitor says between songs tonight is either funny, revealing, self-deprecating, or inspiring -- and often all four at the same time. Hanna is "an asshole in private." She's wearing something under the dress that gives her "a Barbie-doll vagina." She's written a song about falling off the wagon, and enjoying it but feeling guilty about enjoying it, because if she has just one beer, she can't stop drinking. She's incredibly co-dependent, she says. You can't not like her.
Hanna is here before a sold-out crowd with her new band, the Julie Ruin, tonight a six-person 50/50-male/female outfit that deals in a punky, hyperactive, surfy pop, some of which is excellent, a lot of which is just okay. Her collaborators are either silent or magnetic -- keyboardist and vocalist Kenny Mellman tells endearingly how he lived in S.F. from 1986 to 1996 and saw bands at Slim's, plus he's wearing a Hunx and His Punx T-shirt and tells everyone to go see them. But as with the Julie Ruin's first full-length album, there are doldrums of songs that simply rock back and forth between two chords, or otherwise have little going for them other than novel keyboard tones and Hanna's presence. Certain moments feel a bit too consciously tail-fin '60s, although the synth blurts and spunky rhythms get Hanna (and some audience members) doing a goofy arms-in-the-air dance that is fun to watch.
Her voice is still the sound of molten Barbie-doll plastic -- high, thin, and viscous, with an acidic high register. You hear Bikini Kill and Le Tigre in it. You hear decades of having to shout to really be heard in it. And when you can make out Hanna's lyrics, they're striking. The song "Kids in NYC," about the perseverance of artists in ever-more-expensive cities, gets dedicated in to kids in S.F., where it is also crazy-costly. (Shouts of "Oakland!" from the crowd get a rooomful of cheers.) But it's the anthemic "Run Fast," the final track on the band's new album, that closes out the night and proves most memorable. Hanna describes the song as being about her and her sister's days of middle-school mischief (she uses the word "slut" in there somewhere), but it comes off like as an affirmation as she shouts, in the most strident tone of the night, "We gave hand-jobs quick and always with a smile/ So it didn't get too weird and we didn't have to die ... We smoked pin joints under fluorescent lights/And wore shorts at the beach just to hide our thighs!" It is at once awkwardly funny, revealing, a little self-deprecating, and totally inspiring. Everyone stays and watches, captivated, as the song slowly fades out and Hanna flutters offstage, her words still ringing in our ears.
On Feminisim: There are as many kinds of feminism as there are people in the world, Hanna tells us.