live music review: the julie ruin, the corner hotel, 15/01/14
Despite the evening’s sweltering heat, the Corner Hotel was almost packed by the time opening band New War took the stage. It must be difficult to open for a band with such a strong fan base, but the local four-piece seemed to take it all in their stride. Their shoegaze-synth style was an appropriate mood setter while everyone cooled down with a drink in the air-conditioned venue. The crowd was polite but it was pretty obvious who everyone was there to see.
The Julie Ruin is a modern day incarnation of Bikini Kill front-woman Kathleen Hanna’s solo project Julie Ruin (without the “the”). Nowadays it is a five piece consisting of Hanna, fellow Bikini Kill band mate Kathi Wilcox, Kenny Mellman on keys/synths and vocals, Sara Landeau on guitar, and Carmine Covelli on drums. Their sound is a combination of all of their experiences, though not quite as punk as Bikini Kill and not quite as synth-heavy as Le Tigre. It seems anything that Hanna touches is destined to go far, thanks to her almost hero-like status as a pioneer of the Riot Grrl feminist movement.
While it is evident that Hanna is no longer quite as energetic as she used to be – whether that was due the heat, ageing, or impact of her illness (Hanna was diagnosed with late stage Lyme disease in the 00’s), she is still an amazingly charismatic front-woman and her vocals are as strong as ever. Her stage interaction was as if she was speaking to a group of friends, rather than a crowded audience from a hot stage.
There was a great mix of older and newer material, as the band belted out the hits from their current album Run Fast, such as ‘Just My Kind’, ‘South Coast Plaza’, and ‘Oh Come On’, mingled with tracks from back when the project was just Hanna’s own. The token Bikini Kill cover of ‘This is Not a Test’ absolutely went off. The sweet vocal opening of ‘Lookout’ was perfectly executed live, while the call and response style of ‘Kids in NY’ made you feel like you were at a massive house party with friends.
Hanna doesn’t seem nearly as outspoken as she used to be, but perhaps this just wasn’t the right context for it. Some songs were introduced with stories and rambling thoughts about identity politics and the idea of unity within feminism, most notably before ‘Girls Like Us’. The set seemed to finish all too soon, as Hanna explained that it was nice to return to The Corner after Le Tigre played there in 2004, and Bikini Kill in 1996. Despite the heat the band came back for an extended jam of ‘Cookie Road’, finishing the night on a high note and breaking out all the dance moves in their arsenal.