Live Review: Le Tigre @ The Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver - July 4th 2023

Live Review: Le Tigre @ The Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver – July 4th 2023

It is a magical thing when the dust has all but settled in one’s mind on a band from the past, only to thunder its way back into one’s consciousness with a powerful resurgeance out of the blue. After what felt like a permanent hiatus on the music scene, seeing Le Tigre crop up on marquees again is so exciting. Embodying the punk spirit of never selling out, the tour is not even to promote new work or make a cash grab, but simply to get friends back together and revisit the music that meant so much to them, and so much to their fans. A major influencer in the 90s feminist punk wave, the three-piece outfit have been touring again since last year, thrilling audiences the world over with their flippant and flavourful sound. Frontwoman Kathleen Hanna was a true pioneer of the riot grrrl scene, also founding infamous band Bikini Kill, which had also taken a step back from performing for over a decade. She never thought she would tour with BK again, but the group made their way back into the spotlight shortly prior to Le Tigre’s return.

Kathleen’s life has been nothing if not eventful, having contract lyme disease in the prime of her music career and battled with it for years, part of the impetus for stepping out of the spotlight. From the sound of it, her years touring were no cakewalk either, facing misogyny and ignorance at every turning, with a dozen stories of instances like having men operating the soundboards at venues intentionally shocking her mic to try and throw her off. But Hanna is a fighter, and her relentless focus on moving forward the dial on the feminist movement and overcoming obstacles in her personal life is inspiring. 

When Le Tigre went their separate ways, Hanna’s passion manifested in other ways, like founding a non-profit that sends girls to school in Togo, West Africa. Her bandmate Johanna Fateman’s passions led her to becoming a published writer in such publications as the New Yorker and a successful art critic. Their third counterpart, JD Samson, founded the performance art group “Dykes Can Dance” and extends their influence as an assistant arts professor at NYU. The three could have carried on killing it in their individual lives and we may have never gotten to see the raw and cutting performance of Le Tigre again, so what a privilege that the group gave us the opportunity to experience it in all its glory.

Warming up the room before the highly anticipated main act was Seattle-based femme four-piece Who Is She? The formidable women, each a transplant from other successful musical projects, came out in flowing pastoral gowns and cheery flower crowns to align with their latest album Goddess Energy. The inspiration for the album title and eponymous single derives from “the kindest diss ever” when their friend declined a get-together with the women because, with all of them in the same room, it would be “too much goddess energy”. The band brought that energy in spades, harnessing the summer sunbeams from outside into the dimly lit hall of the Commodore Ballroom with their playful lyrics and bouncy rock n’ roll beats. Their peppy mini-ditties are nostalgic and charmingly rooted in highly specific times and places, clearly born out of giddy conversations between friends.

The group started out writing songs inspired by missed connection ads in the Seattle paper The Stranger, and they played one of those tonight, “Nervous Duffelbag Boy”. They continued to show the range of their micro-fixations in song form with funny and free-wheeling tunes inspired by media predicaments and pop culture. Topics ranged from the formulaic rom-com to a happy remembering of MySpace, to a menacing take on more recent social media platforms, all super boppable with enticing hooks and spoken story-telling interludes. “It’s a dream to be playing in Canada on the 4th of July,” they joked, launching into a tune about one of the best Canadians, Shania Twain. They were clearly having the best time up on stage, grooving, strumming back to back, and grinning from ear to ear.

In a somewhat unusual move, the foursome even played their modern rewrite of one the headliner’s biggest songs, incorporating a nod to the Seattle transit system with the added bonus of taking a jab at Jeff Bezos in “My My Orca Card”. “You can tell we’re big fans,” guitarist Robin Edwards of Lisa Prank and bassist Bree McKenna of Tacocat told, laughing to each other as they recounted how the song got them banned from playing a series of pre-game shows at Seattle hockey arena named for Amazon–taking up Le Tigre’s banner of rebellion and doing them proud. Together with Chastity Belt drummer Julia Shapiro and recent addition to the group, Tacocat keyboardist Emily Nokes, the band’s ever-growing repertoire is sure to gain them steady notoriety on the scene. They wrapped the set with a supercharged cover of “Mamma Mia”, getting the growing crowd bouncing and belting along.

On the first of their two-night engagement, Le Tigre frontwoman Kathleen Hanna was put through the absolute ringer with technical difficulties, struggling with her monitor multiple times throughout the show to the point where she had to stop/start and even abandon songs altogether in the set. While she carried it off with grace and a good sense of humour–”We haven’t done this in 25 years, seems like a good time for this to happen,” she joked sarcastically–my heart soared for her when the glitches had been worked out for night two. The iconic trio burst out of the gates in puffy colour-blocked outfits with the pointed intensity of a pumping drum machine and hectic shouts of opening number “The the Empty”. Bandmate JD Sampson chanted the “Oh baby!” refrain into a megaphone as guitarist Johanna Fateman scrubbed frenetically along. Their neon aesthetic was brought to life in funky animations behind them, complete with singalong-style lyrics; whether done from a place or accessibility or art, it was highly enjoyable to have the searing feminist credos captioned in bold as they passed.

Kathleen was dancing and bouncing around the stage like a pinball, her long brown hair tied up in a long tall bun, as the band delivered their vintage hits to absolute uproar from the crowd. Attendees consisted of a mix of die-hard fans from the band’s inception to a new wave of followers just discovering this hidden gem, and who weren’t even been born when Le Tigre’s seminal self-titeld debut album was released. Sentiments in political anthems like “FYR” (fifty years of ridicule) are sadly not lost on the new generation, and it’s clear that we still have a long way to go down the road that rebellious bands Le Tigre helped pave. With choice snippets of Le Tigre classics like “Deceptacon” being splashed across TikTok, the band has reached an audience with fresh ears and a ravenous appetite for their sound. That much was clear from the enthusiasm in the room on this timely reunion tour. And the 50+ names denoting the who’s who of feminist and queer thought leaders of the early 90s and prior listed out in one of Hanna’s favourite songs to sing, “Hot Topic”, provided an enduring history of where we have been and where we need to go.

Le Tigre bust out some of their dancier, new wave tracks as Johanna took the lead vocals on “Mediocrity” and “Cassavetes” and commanded the stage with bravado during the scathingly deadpan call-and-response. As fun as those were, the band was sheer perfection delivering more powerful punk rock numbers like “On the Verge”. The energy was electric and rebellious as everyone shouted along in an epic release. Hanna’s vocals were staggering, probably only having grown stronger in the intervening years. After screaming the final refrain (“You make me sick!”) of “Seconds”. Kathleen confessed, “That felt good,” admitting to picturing all the faces of the terrible people out there while belting it out. “This is total therapy for me. It feels so good to shake this shit out of my fucking body, so thank you for being a part of it.” The charismatic frontwoman had such an ease with which she expressed herself on stage all throughout the night, a candid cadence bursting from the seams of a truly confident person who clearly doesn’t put up with any shit.

The band dashed off stage midway through their set and a remix of “Get Off the Internet” bumped in the ballroom for a raving crowd before the gang trotted back after a costume change into black and white checkered and striped attire. The three lined up and did a bit of go-go choreo to a mod tune leading into the anthemic “On Guard” culminating in JD’s poignantly sung chorus of “Are you a boy or a girl?” JD joined Le Tigre after their first album and clearly added a unique perspective to later releases like This Island from a place of gender non-conformity, quite ground-breaking at its release two decades ago. They continued their moment centre stage to sing a song about bitch lesbian identity, “Vis”, an uplifting track with a message of inclusivity that had the diverse crowd bouncing high. The waves of positivity continued to radiate forth as they rounded out the set with “Keep on Livin’”.

Riotous applause and foot stamping drew the trio came back onstage for an unforgettable encore starting with “Phanta”, which they never previously toured. It was a fabulous revival, with Johanna clapping symbols periodically with a surrealist flair. Kathleen moved robotically to the doomy synth tones and melted down like she was on the fritz as the song unravelled. The three moved haltingly in a line to a bare beat that steadily accelerated into the instantly recognizable intro to “Deceptacon”, at which the crowd went nuts and anyone left sitting in the room couldn’t help but be swept to their feet to jam. In a final burst, Kathleen spent the song’s outro furiously jumping rope on the spot to the fitting closing lines of “See you later”, still skipping even after the song was over until she tripped and called it a night on a triumphant returning tour. 

Setlist

1 The the Empty

2 TKO

3 FYR

4 Hot topic

5 Mediocrity Rules

6 What’s Yr Take on Cassavetes

7 Shred A

8 On the Verge

9 Seconds

10 Eau d’Bedroom Dancing

11 Get Off the Internet (remix costume change)

12 Yr Critique

13 On Guard

14 My My Metrocard

15 Viz

16 Keep on Livin’

Encore

17 Phanta

18 Deceptacon

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