Girl Germs: Live Tribute to Women in Rock
With Pink Mink, Night Moves, Fury Things, L'Assassins, Lydia Liza, and Crystal
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Saturday, May 30, 2014
What started as a dream from co-creators and curators Sally Hedberg and Dana Raidt became a reality last Friday evening. Girl Germs staged a takeover of the First Avenue mainroom, bringing seven local bands and host Lori Barbero of Minneapolis's own legendary Babes in Toyland to the stage in a tribute to women in music.
Watching Fury Things erupt into the first few lines of Hole's "Teenage Whore" was enough to bring any grunge fan back to the early '90s, when Courtney Love unabashedly declared herself to the world as rock's first lady, smeared in red lipstick and armed with a guitar and a closet full of babydoll dresses. Lydia Hoglund of Bomba De Luz's rendition of Dusty Springfield was heart wrenchingly beautiful, and a massive accomplishment for a singer whose first encounter with Springfield's material was in preparation for this performance. Pink Mink got a small mosh pit going as they tore into Bikini Kill's extensive catalog of feminist-motivated material. The audience sang along like it was their last chance at karaoke, ever.
Girl Germs began as a show on Radio K, hosted by Raidt. At the time, Hedberg was a listener. Years later, the two united to launch girlgermsmpls.com, a website with this mission: "To obsess over the girls with guitars who have made a lasting impact." They began discussing the idea of a tribute show in relation to the website, and with lots of hard work, dedication, and help from First Avenue, were able to arrange Friday's event -- which will hopefully serve as the first of many such nights.
Though things started relatively early, a decent crowd was in attendance for Hedberg and Raidt's opening remarks. Barbero introduced the opening band Crystal, featuring members of local favorites Brute Heart. It was Crystal's first performance ever, which made their set of Sade tuned all the more impressive. Crystal Myslajek led on vocals and keys, weaving haunting vocal melodies with the voice of drummer Crystal Brinkman.
The band eventually staged a brief interlude to introduce themselves as "Crystal Serene" on the bass(she had moved from marimba to bass a few songs into the set), "Crystal Joy" on the keys, and "Crystal Marie" on the drums. It will certainly be intriguing to see what Crystal's own music sounds like. They maintained a subtle strength through Sade's hits like "The Sweetest Taboo" and "Smooth Operator," receiving an enthusiastic response.
Next, Hoglund strutted upon stage in a red gown and heels, her hair tied back elegantly. She seemed a bit nervous, as she and her guitarist had learned several additional Springfield covers the previous day to fill extra time in her set. Occasionally singing from a lyrics sheet she kept onstage with her, the last minute preparation had no negative effect on her performance quality. Hoglund transported the room to a different era. Her voice was soulful, dizzying. She leapt effortlessly from guttural declarations to falsetto lamentations. As the stage lights illuminated her small frame, she kicked off her heels declaring, "Fuck heels," stepping down and lowering the mic stand with her.
At one point, Hoglund was joined onstage by Gabriel Douglas of the 4onthefloor for "The Look of Love." The two's voices blended seamlessly, soaring above and beneath one another. Then, Hoglund launched into "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" dedicating the song to her mother and explaining, "'cause I did a lot of shit as a teenager."
Fury Things absolutely killed it with their set of Hole songs. Courtney Love would have been writhing in jealousy had she been in attendance to see her music delivered with such vigor. They opened the set with "Teenage Whore," immediately transforming the mood of the venue, inspiring small pockets of head-banging to form within the crowd. Kyle Werstein's face was etched in agony as he pleaded, "Go on, take everything!," during "Violet." Seeing the three men sing the words to "Gutless" -- "Girl germs eat your little virus, revolution come and die, elitists who eat the virus, sleep with me, wake up alive..." -- breathed new life into an oft-forgotten track off of Live Through This. As they moved into songs from the Celebrity Skin era, sweat poured down their faces and arms, glittering in the air. It was clear that the trio had come prepared.
The big surprise came at the end of their set, when the three started in on a cover of Destiny's Child's "Say My Name." Somehow, they had managed to warp the song into a punk-rock anthem. Werstein and Devon Torrey sang back and forth, and the audience joined in. Their set dissolved into a wall of sound as Werstein scraped endlessly against his guitar strings, holding the instrument to an amp for maximum feedback. People went nuts. What a weird throwback juxtaposition: Hole and Destiny's Child.[page]
L'Assassins covered both Thee Headcoatees and the Trashwomen during their set. Thee Headcoatees are a garage rock band that formed in England in 1991, and the Trashwomen were an all-female garage punk and surf punk trio that formed during the same time in the San Francisco Bay Area. L'Assassins vocalist Tea Ann Simpson is incredibly satisfying to watch, as she snarls into the microphone, alternating between come-hither dance moves and leaning menacingly in towards the audience. Their set was extremely convincing, evoking the ferocity of the bands they were covering.
"Who needs boys when you've got batteries?" Simpson asked, launching into the Trashwomen's song "Batteries." Her bandmates offered supporting vocals and she strutted about the stage, taunting the crowd. They closed with a unique cover of Thee Headcoatees' "Melvin," a song originally written by Van Morrison but reworked by countless garage bands. For the L'Assassins version, elements of the original song were presented alongside Thee Headcoatee's bastardized version -- with enough emotion and sexual energy to make Patti Smith proud. "Thanks for showing us that people still like rock 'n roll sometimes too," Simpson said as the group exited the stage. "Let's drink and party!"
Strange Names were a big crowd pleaser with their set of B-52's songs. They stood behind mysterious illuminated glass boxes, the epitome of cool. Singer Liam Benzvi moved self-assuredly as he belted out the words to "Channel Z," his unique voice strangely fitting for the B-52's catalog. Some audience members were perhaps a bit drunker by now, the fact of which was communicated through their flamboyant dance moves. Even the most stoic of attendees was basically forced to sing along with hits like "Love Shack." For their last song "Roam," Benzvi had even prepared a pun: "You can either stick around, or roam if you want to."
The crowd was beginning to thin somewhat, which was unfortunate considering that two acts remained: Night Moves and Pink Mink. Night Moves' representation of the Cranberries was enchanting. Guitarist and vocalist John Pelant's body twitched every few words that he sang in a surprisingly clear falsetto voice, strikingly similar to that of the Cranberries' lead singer Dolores O'Riordan. At this point, inebriated concertgoers were quite literally raving along to the music. During "Zombie," fists were raised high in the air as the room belted out "in your head, in your head..." along with Pelant.
Pink Mink closed out the evening with a ferocious set of Bikini Kill songs. Clad in a beehive-hairdo and Kathleen Hannah-esque fashion, Arzu Gokcen accompanied guitarist/vocalist Christy Hunt in singing/shouting the words to signature riot grrrl anthems like "Suck My Left One" and "Carnival," despite Hunt's laryngitis. Their performance was filled with vitriol, a staple of Bikini Kill's attitude towards society and a means of conveying their feminist beliefs. Though most of their songs clock in around 1 minute, each pack a heavy punch. Pink Mink's set was the perfect catharsis to the whirlwind of genres we had enjoyed throughout the night.
Seeing such a vast array of talented musicians putting their all into honoring the women who helped shape the musical landscape as it is today was inspiring and courageous. Girl Germs was a righteous experience. Here's to many more!
The Crowd: Seemingly random but obviously a lot of people who have good taste in music and are practiced in the art of karaoke!
Random notebook dump: People are raving with intent. To the Cranberries. What?
Critic's Bias: I grew up obsessed with Hole, Bikini Kill and Babes in Toyland, so this event basically felt like a time machine. I almost cried on about 8 different occasions. Dana and Sally are kind of my heroes for putting this whole thing together. Girl Germs fucking rocks, end of story.
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