Babes In Conflict

When Minneapolis legends Babes in Toyland played a sold-out gig at the London Mean Fiddler on March 3, Time Out heralded the event as a "reunion show." Yet the band that took the stage in London contained only one original member: singer-guitarist Kat Bjelland. The rhythm section had been recently borrowed from the British group Angelica.

The "reunion" tour is news to Babes in Toyland's co-founder, drummer Lori Barbero. And she's furious. "I asked Kat three times about it, and she claimed she was touring England as Katastrophy Wife," says Barbero, who's home in Minneapolis. "After being in a band for 15-odd years, I thought we were on pretty good terms."

Katastrophy Wife, of course, is Bjelland's other local trio, whose breakup she announced three months ago. At the time she said she planned to keep the name--a claim she'd never made on Babes in Toyland, which Barbero lifted from Victor Herbert's operetta for various projects before she met her soon-to-be-best friend 16 years ago. Since the band's original 1987 incarnation, the name has stuck through a succession of bassists, including one each for two reunion tours since the women abandoned Babes as a full-time pursuit in 1998.

Reached in London, Bjelland's manager Kurt Pagan says he booked a Babes in Toyland reunion tour in Europe last fall. According to Pagan, Barbero committed to the gig, then pulled out after September 11 but agreed to reschedule for February 2002. She proceeded to back out of that commitment as well, Pagan says. "I want to stress that Lori was asked from the beginning," he says. "We actually spoke to Lori about the possibility of Yoko Ono producing a new CD." He concedes, however, that he never followed up with Barbero to let her know Bjelland would be touring as Babes in Toyland without her.

Barbero tells a different version of the story: She says it was Bjelland who backed out of the 2001 tour. She maintains that she never committed to the 2002 tour dates, because she needed to accommodate a co-worker on maternity leave, though she was open to touring at a later time. Barbero adds that she didn't realize that the tour had been booked without her until people began phoning from England, wondering about Babes dates they'd seen on the Internet. When she confronted her old friend, Barbero recounts, Bjelland assured her the tour was not being booked under the old band name. "I would never for one minute have approved of her doing that," Barbero says. "Peter Murphy is not booked as Bauhaus. Daniel Ash is not booked as Love and Rockets."

Bjelland is scheduled to play the Loring Pasta Bar April 4 with a new Katastrophy Wife lineup featuring members of the British outfit Sally, and a U.S. tour is in the works. But any plans for a genuine Babes in Toyland reunion have been junked. "The breakup of a band is not something new in my life," Bjelland says. "Now I'm just worried about coming back. People love to hate me there, though, so I'm used to it."

Does Barbero agree that Babes in Toyland are kaput? "Oh, yeah," she laughs. "Are you kidding me? I'm really proud of what I've done, and I don't hate anybody, but I feel really betrayed."

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