Le Tigre Wraps Up World Tour at Brooklyn Steel
Le Tigre started their penultimate show with a fuck up followed by a round of laughter led by Kathleen Hanna and spreading quickly to Johanna Fateman, JD Sampson and the entire crowd at Brooklyn Steel. The audience’s laughter quickly switched back to cheers as the band started over, launching into “The The Empty”, from their self-titled debut album.
The reaction from the crowd made it pretty clear that the song was an ironic choice to open the show. “I went to your concert and I didn’t feel anything,” was not the vibe the two hours the band was on stage. Eighteen years has passed since Le Tigre last toured and it was clear that the sold out crowd had all of the feels for the group.
Le Tigre may not have reached the lexicon status as Hanna’s first turn behind a microphone – as lead singer of the early 90’s riot grrl band, Bikini Kill – but the announcement of a world tour for this summer had social media abuzz with excitement. The band, once described by guitar/vocalist Fateman as a “feminist party band”, has long been remembered for in-your-face political messages wrapped around dance beats.
The band got its start in the dredges of the 1990s. After the break-up of Bikini Kill, Hanna started recording under the pseudonym, Julie Ruin, but hit a wall when it came to performing the tracks live. She turned to Fateman to help in shaping a live show for the new material. The two had met years earlier and shared a similar musical aesthetic. The Julie Ruin project never took off the ground, but after adding multimedia artist, Sadie Benning to the mix, Le Tigre was born.
The three put out Le Tigre’s self-titled debut in 1999 to critical success. Spin Magazine reviewed the album saying it, “sparkles with a joie de vivre more bubbly than a pink champagne.” The band took their lo-fi, new wave bop on the road and it was there that Benning decided to bow out. Samson had already been touring with the band as a roadie and occasionally hopping on stage to sing backup, so she was the obvious replacement for Benning.
An EP and two more albums followed, but in 2007, the band took what ended up being a very long hiatus. Samson and Fateman went on to create MEN, originally a DJ/production project ultimately becoming an art/dance music collective. Hanna spent years coping with the effects of Lyme disease, eventually creating new music as The Julie Ruin.
The trio reunited for a few projects over the years, most notably to record “I’m With Her” for the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016, but it wasn’t until the last few years that they decided it was time to bring Le Tigre back. As Sampson expressed to The Guardian earlier this year, “We realized that a lot of the lyrics are still relevant, and that of course feels depressing.”
Their live shows highlighted Le Tigre’s message by highlighting those lyrics. The band joked and danced while they played at Brooklyn Steel while lyrics to each song marched along on the screens behind them. It was intersectional feminist karaoke bathed in bright colors.
The setlist was a perfect mix of songs from their four releases including favorites like “Hot Topic” from 1999’s Le Tigre, “TKO” from 2004’s This Island, and “Shred A” from 2001’s Feminist Sweepstakes. The audience ate up each song, jumping up and down the entire night and cheering wildly for costume changes and synchronized dance moves.
Hanna took on most of the lead vocals, with Samson and Fateman taking over during several songs. Samson’s turn on lead for “Viz” was a bouncy indictment sent from 2004 to the undisguised homophobes screaming about “woke culture” in 2023, “They call it climbing, and I call it visibility. They call it coolness, and I call it visibility.”
Fateman sang lead on several songs, but it was the third song of the night, “FYR” that seemed to embody the frustration of having to repeat these messages 20 years later. “One step forward, five steps back. We tell the truth, they turn up the laugh track.”
Such is the joyous irony of seeing Le Tigre in 2023. The band sounded as fantastic as they did in the early part of the century, but it’s depressing that the messages are the same. Nevertheless, if the fight still has to be fought, it’s nice to have Le Tigre back to be, as Hanna put it in 2019, “the dance party after the protest.”