Tramps Like Us

Born to shun polite society, the Menstrual Tramps treat punk like a fishnet-stocking and pogo-dancing party

Cheerleaders across America, take heed. Featured on the cover of the 7-inch Toxic Shock and on the band's Web site, www.menstrualtramps.com, is a picture of a perky, blond pigtailed cheerleader, played by friend Kari Craighead, a.k.a. Kari Crackhead (Ra-Ra Girl), who is under siege by Menstrual Tramps. The 7-inch contains the next photo in the series, in which poor Kari turns up by a dumpster with tampons shoved up her nose. If you have any doubts about the scene's implications, the caption by the counter at the bottom of the Web site will dispel them: "This many cheerleaders got their ass kicked here." At press time, the body count was 8,794.

And who is it that plans to administer this beat-down? To see them onstage, you wouldn't question that the Menstrual Tramps have it in for the peppy and polite crowd. A midwinter show at the 400 Bar found a trio of young, tough-looking girls who were ready to mess with the 50-some hardcore hardcore-punk fans assembled that night.

Singer and guitarist Chyna White (age 21) is the first thing you notice, as her hair is spiked about a foot from her scalp and shoots out in three dimensions. From the front, she looks like a sinister Statue of Liberty if its crown had suddenly changed from oxidized copper to black. To White's left, bassist and singer Sigrid Sheie (age 23) slings her sparkly blue Fender-lookalike over her Babes in Toyland T-shirt. Her bleached white frizzy locks are cropped to her chin like Kat Bjelland's circa 1994. From the back of the stage, drummer Selena Garcia (age 24), cracks a huge, neon smile, and since this is already sounding like a Vogue fashion roundup, you might as well know that her hair is draped very prettily over her tank top and tattooed arms.

And then White emits a Joan Jett-after-smoking-road-tar scream that rips through the walls. It's a lovely way to start the opening song, "Suck the Gutter"; and she extends that migraine-inducing caterwaul several beats longer during the memorable chorus kicker, "WAKE THE FUCK UUUUUUUP!" Not surprisingly, once finished with the song, the Menstrual Tramps have everyone's attention.

The set now continues at a frenzied pace, the lyrics mostly indecipherable except for the occasional expletive, their energy inspiring a handful of guys in front of the stage to pogo like electrified chickens in a novelty show. Not only do the Menstrual Tramps seem very bossy and powerful, but they're also tighter than the Donnas' jeans. That is, until at one point when Garcia's foot hits the floor instead of her kickdrum pedal, momentarily stopping the pumping momentum of both the band and its thrashing, crusty devotees.

A quick glance goes back and forth among the band members, and then they jump back into the song as if nothing has happened, a definite sign that the Menstrual Tramps are not only tight but also seasoned. And crass as your drunk neighbor, as the audience soon learns once the song comes to its rightful conclusion. "Where's the party?" White asks, already thinking about what will come after the show.

"I thought it was up your skirt," Sheie cracks back.

After such a thrillingly skuzzy stage show, you might expect that the Menstrual Tramps would live in a trash-filled squat, if not a van permanently parked down by the river. Yet my home visit with the Tramps a few days after the gig took me to one of those vintage brick apartment buildings in south Minneapolis.

I was greeted at Garcia's door by one Lavender, a sassy little five-year-old accompanied by a surprisingly soft-spoken Sheie. "You're the third person to come over tonight," Lavender informs me as she escorts me up to her apartment. Inside, mom Garcia sits at the kitchen table with an L.A. Dodgers cap on, popping up to help Lavender get ready for bed. Several minutes later, a now spikeless and neatly combed White walks into the apartment wearing blue hospital scrubs; she has just finished her shift as an LPN at Walker Methodist nursing home. Of the three, Sheie most closely matches the dress of her stage persona, which is allowed at her day job, working for the advertising department of Pulse.

Now that the kid is sleeping, the kitchen table begins to resemble a scene from a stogey-smoking card party, with the Menstrual Tramps momentarily forgetting their daily concerns as they light cigarettes and cut loose about their true vocation--that is, being a hard-working hardcore threat.

To date, the almost-two-year-old band has self-released two 7-inches--Toxic Shock and Late Night Riot. So, too, they've gone on five extended national tours to various regions of these United States, and they plan to hit both coasts this summer.

It hasn't been easy juggling family life and careers with their punk-rock aspirations: Lavender (as well as a baby sitter) came along for the band's first Midwest tour, but it soon became evident that finding cheap yet safe places for the child to stay on the road only added to the strain of being a touring DIY band. As did the clothes Sheie overpacked, she says, remembering one West Coast tour. These days, she adds, the band is a lighter, more sensible mobile unit.

Should Lavender listen to her mother's band, she certainly won't grow up to be a shrinking violet: A wrathful young woman's perspective fills the Menstrual Tramps' lyrics. It's not the sort of pop-feminist rant that you'd find on a current Le Tigre/Kathleen Hanna venture: This band specializes in blunt, honest, and often harsh rages against the messed-up world. For instance, the song "Redneck Girl" is a Miss Manners-from-the-Ozarks lesson aimed at the types she recognizes from her unenlightened past: "Hey bitch/I used to be just like you... What you said doesn't mean shit to me, Redneck Girl/Open your eyes and see."

The Menstrual Tramps practice tough love, whether they're tackling women-specific issues or not. With the song "Be a Man," army recruiters and their recruits get a piece of the Menstrual Tramps' mind. "Rip you apart, fill you up with lies," White warns, "Put you through school, that is, if you don't die."

As with most hardcore bands, the Tramps' politics are sometimes lost in their music's cacophony. The mohawked, the safety-pinned, and the fishnet-stockinged who fill the band's 400 Bar show seem to be getting the message. In the spirit of London, 1977, one aging crusty even begins hurling plastic cups toward the stage in homage. Looking at that poor cheerleader, I wouldn't recommend blowing a gob of spit, Sex Pistols-style, at this band.

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