Rage and joy collide as punk icons Bikini Kill take the stage in Melbourne

This wrap of shows around Melbourne includes the return of long-missed band, and a string quartet that subverts all expectations.

Bikini Kill ★★★★
The Forum, March 7

In 2023, there’s still plenty for American riot grrl pioneers Bikini Kill to be angry about. Violations of reproductive rights. Systematic discrimination against trans people. The removal of black history from school curriculums. “Every day I wake up, I feel like I’m on a motherf—in’ rollercoaster,” frontwoman Kathleen Hanna confessed to Tuesday night’s audience at The Forum. Despite all their rage, Bikini Kill’s first Australian tour in over 25 years was a joyous occasion.

Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna performing at The Forum in Melbourne, March 7.Credit:Rick Clifford

The show almost didn’t happen, with drummer Tobi Vail out of commission. Tropical F— Storm’s Lauren Hammel made a valiant last-minute replacement, joining Hanna, founding bassist Kathi Wilcox, and touring guitarist Sara Landeau (of The Julie Ruin), with crew members providing supplementary guitar and vocals. Abridged set list aside, nobody could fault the generosity of the performances, from Hanna’s swaggering delivery of the opening lines of Carnival, to crew member Ab’s homespun rendition of For Only. A single-song encore of 1992 hit Rebel Girl ended the night on a high.

An all-ages gig, Bikini Kill drew a ragtag crowd: sleepy 8-year-olds trailing after mothers with undercuts; zoomers in ’90s revival fishnets, shoulder-to-shoulder with dreadlocked ageing grungers; mohawks and frazzled grey bobs. The audience’s gratitude, like the band’s, was palpable, with Hanna’s chatty interludes creating a sense of communion as much as the riotous bops.

Bikini Kill returns to Australia for the first time in 25 years.Credit:Rick Clifford

Roving from ’90s punk scene misogyny to gratitude journals to feminist porn, Hanna’s spirit – and that of the imperfectly reunited band, by extension – is perhaps best encapsulated by her entreaty to audience members to support their local punk and indie scenes. “That’s where the real cool-arse shit is f—ing going on,” she goaded. “Make something better than us. You can totally do it.”
Reviewed by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

Kronos Quartet ★★★★
Hamer Hall, March 7

Celebrating half a century of fearlessly redefining the image of the string quartet, the Kronos Quartet has returned to Australia still very much on a musical mission, even if acquiring the cult status of an old rock band.

Kronos Quartet at a concert in Guadalajara, Mexico in June 2022. Experimentation continues to be a watchword for the group.Credit:Antonio Rubio

While having a long history, Kronos is very much a living organism. Newcomer cellist-composer Paul Wiancko joins longstanding members, violinists David Harrington, John Sherba and violist Hank Dutt, and the 50 for the Future project sees 50 new works made available for string quartets to amplify their contemporary repertoire.

This Five Decades Tour presents the group’s customary blend of specially commissioned world music mixed with minimalism and fresh takes on some older scores.

Kronos Quartet (left to right): David Harrington, violin; John Sherba, violin; Hank Dutt, viola; Paul Wiancko, cello.Credit:Emma Barber

The pulsating rhythms of Little Black Book by electronic producer Jlin form a vigorous prelude to a thought-provoking excerpt from John Oswald’s Spectre where overdubbing and strobe lighting highlight the differences between capturing visual and audio moments. Two scenes from Nicole Lizee’s ZonelyHearts use props and Dada-like antics to serve an exploration of censorship and surveillance.

Composers sharing diverse musical heritage from Indonesia, Serbia, Benin, and Nubia in Egypt add to the richly woven musical tapestry, counterpointing with deeply felt arrangements of songs made famous by two jazz greats, Billie Holiday and Mahalia Jackson. Holiday’s anti-lynching song Strange Fruit has a brooding intensity, while Dutt’s viola movingly inhabits the soulful sincerity of Jackson’s God Shall Wipe All Tears Away.

Driving energy confirms Kronos’ commitment to the minimalist cause. One Earth, One People, One Love from Terry Riley’s Sun Rings features Wiancko’s mellow lyricism, neatly contrasting with Steve Reich’s Different Trains, a 1980s classic that still crackles with a high-voltage electric charge.

Kronos’ signature arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze, the last of three encores, brought the house down in truly rebellious, old-rocker style.
Reviewed by Tony Way

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