It has been almost three years since the last Bikini Kill show, and the band decided they would start their tour with a very intimate gathering at the legendary Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown.
Located near Joshua Tree, Pappy and Harriet’s was built as a movie set by Roy Rogers and Gene Autry in 1946, and used as a backdrop for many a spaghetti western. In the ‘70s, it morphed into sort of a biker bar, and then in the early 2000s, a music venue and restaurant that hosted a wide range of acts from Paul McCartney to the Circle Jerks. They also have surprisingly great food and the restaurant was featured on “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain.
All that being said, when I saw that Bikini Kill would have their first show of the tour there, I knew I had to go. As I made my way up highway 62, everything seemed very quiet in Joshua Tree and I thought maybe this is going to be a small show. But as I approached the venue, I discovered I was very wrong. Pappy and Harriet’s lit up Pioneertown Road like a small city. They had security waving fans into spots in a dirt parking lot, and it was all pretty organized.
The crowd was mostly 30-somethings – or those of us still pretending to be 30-somethings. The venue had a cozy, old-timey western vibe and the audience was clearly longtime fans. Bikini Kill has always been much more than just a band to their fans; more of a school of thought. The feeling of acceptance and encouragement you got when listening to the songs. It did not matter who or what you were; you just be you. Whether you start a band or ‘zine, we did it, so can you. Bikini Kill changed things in their own way. They let the world know that women shouldn’t – and weren’t – going to quietly and politely take your shit any more. It was a needed slap in the face to the ‘90’s punk scene.
With a few flickers of the lights, Bikini Kill took to the stage and came out strong with 1991’s “Carnival,” a song about the seedy side of carnivals. The dancing started and only stopped during short breaks between songs for singer Kathleen Hanna to banter and joke with the audience and fellow bandmates – Kathi Wilcox on bass, Tobi Vail on drums, and 2019 addition Erica Dawn Lyle on guitar.
She told us how the group had not played live in two and a half years because of “you know,” and that she could not think of a nicer place to start the tour. “It is nice here. We are outside. I am so glad everyone made it out here. As you can tell we all got dressed up.”
There were a few breaks as the band ran through pretty much every Bikini Kill song ever recorded, which included, but was not limited to, “Don’t Need You,” “Feels Blind,” “Alien She,” “Jigsaw Youth,” “Reject All American,” and of course, “Rebel Girl.” The highlight for me was when they broke into everyone’s favorite ‘90’s riot grrrl breakup song, “Outta Me.”
During one of the breaks, Hanna told a story about a girl she knew when Bikini Kill was first starting out. She told Hanna that she thought singing about feminism was kind of selfish and boring and that no one would want to listen to that. Hanna ended the story with, “Well it is 35 years later and I am doing another show.”
The night was full of fun, feedback, and feminism. A good time was had by all and it was definitely worth the drive. To those who don’t think Bikini Kill changed the world just a little, when I was writing this review, I noticed that if you type “Riot Girl” into Google Docs, it asks you if you would like to change it to “Riot Grrrl.”
Bikini Kill is headed across-the-pond, but will be back in July to pick up on their North American Tour. If you haven’t already, see this band!