Kitten Forever concerts are exercises in controlled chaos.
The shows are more like full-fledged blowouts as opposed to casual, flavor-of-the-weekend events. Audience members join them on stage to shout-sing choruses. Bandmates Corrie Harrigan, Liz Elton, and Laura Larson regularly alternate instruments and occasionally wander into the crowd mid-song. Oh, and there are balloons, too. So many balloons.
After toiling away in rock clubs, stuffed basements, garages, and a handful of backyards for the better part of a decade, the incendiary and guitar-less Minneapolis art-punk trio has achieved cult-hero status in the punk community. They're fixtures, DIY vanguards — rebel girls with or without a cause, depending on the song.
"I think we've really grown up alongside our audience and our peers and I've always felt endlessly supported," Harrigan says. "We try to engage with our fans as if they're our friends because they usually are."
The communal vibe Kitten Forever cultivated is just one of a plethora of traits that make them so endearing, but it is certainly a defining one. The band's devoted following can expect a matured, darker, and more ambitious sound on Kitten Forever's new album, 7 Hearts, which will be celebrated Saturday at Triple Rock, but more on that later.
In many ways, Kitten Forever's fanbase is a unique extension of the group itself, and it's one that isn't limited to living rooms in Uptown or dive bars in Northeast. The group has established a modest following outside of the Twin Cities via tours that are dotted with seemingly random stops, including Redding, California's Booty Ballroom and Minot, North Dakota's Duff Mountain.
"Booking tours is actually really fun for us because we have this road map of friends we get to visit," Harrigan explains. "We regularly go to this place in Redding, California, because we met this girl on our first West Coast tour who was like, 'I want you to come play in my backyard,' and now we go back there every year."
The band's following transcends their underground social circle. In 2014, PBS released a mini-documentary on the group (posted below), Entertainment Weekly just teased their new LP, and last year they embarked on a nationwide tour with Minneapolis grunge-punk icons Babes in Toyland, whom they opened for at First Avenue in January.
Babes in Toyland had been distant admirers of Kitten Forever for years, ever since Babes drummer Lori Barbero heard a Kitten Forever song on the University of Minnesota's radio station Radio K. Barbero was visiting from her home in Austin, Texas, at the time and immediately picked up one of the band's 7-inches.
"I love everything about them. No breaks between songs, no stopping, they're just so fun," Barbero says. "I also love that they're great friends. I sometimes think that's more important than having similar musical styles, because your musical sensibilities can change quickly over time."
Babes frontwoman Kat Bjelland fondly recalls Barbero introducing her to the band.
"The first time I saw them they freaked me the fuck out because they were so good, so beautiful. And then I would always watch their sets on tour because it would get me revved up and shaking my ass," Bjelland laughs. "One time I tried to help them carry their equipment but they wouldn't let me. They're just that DIY."
It was, of course, a dream realized to hit the road with Babes, but Kitten Forever stress how far removed the tour was from their standard zero-frills approach.
"It was a unique experience touring with an actual road crew and showing up for sound check," Elton explains. "And then we came back and everyone was like, 'Was it great? Was it a dream come true?' And I was just, like, 'Yup — I don't know what else to tell you.'"
As lazy as the comparison may seem, there's no denying Babes in Toyland's influence on the Kitten Forever aesthetic and approach. What's just as striking is Kitten Forever's influence on Twin Cities music. They sit at the center of a community that has, since their rise, witnessed an influx of fellow female-led local rock groups like the Bombshells and 2015 Picked To Click runner-up Bruise Violet, to name just a couple.
For all their stagecraft and swagger, Kitten Forever are in something of a transition period. If their last release, 2013's Pressure, was a convivial party-punk album, 7 Hearts is the inevitable hangover.
The band is a maelstrom of anthemic angst, and on 7 Hearts they harness all that raw energy into something much more realized and mature than on previous releases. There's a sarcastically dark underpinning to the songwriting, too.
From the furiously catty "Nightmare" to the psychological romp that is "Brainstorm," the album is fraught with all kinds of personal turmoil and knee-jerk nihilism. On "Temple" the group sings, "Trust no one / Eat your tears / Swallow your pride / Kill your fear," which actually makes for a pretty decent personal mantra. The band says that shift in tone is no accident.
"Let's see what our comfort levels are not only individually playing other instruments, but also writing songs," Larson says of the approach to the new LP. "We also had a tough year on a personal level, and I think that just comes across naturally as far as how we write songs."
There's no absence of urgency on 7 Hearts, but there's noticeable restraint. That's not to say it isn't any fun — it's a more serious record from a band that refuses to take itself too seriously.
"We've been playing the part of the party band for the last 10 years," she adds "And now we're ready to dig in and see what we can really do."
With: Bruise Violet, Cherry Cola, Royal Brat.
When: 9 p.m. Sat., April 2.
Where: Triple Rock Social Club.
Tickets: $7; more info here; RSVP here.