“What’s Yr Take on Opening Night of Le Tigre’s Reunion Tour”

The first time I ever saw Le Tigre was in 2002 at The Black Cat in Washington DC.  It was opening night of the band’s tour behind Feminist Sweepstakes,...

The first time I ever saw Le Tigre was in 2002 at The Black Cat in Washington DC.  It was opening night of the band’s tour behind Feminist Sweepstakes, and their first show to ever utilize their DVD player (used to convert their famous manually operated slideshow into the 21st Century), which they’d been saving for for years.  I was a gender-troubled 17-year-old, and after Kathleen Hanna proclaimed her famous “Girls to the Front!” rallying cry, she leaned over to tell me — currently pressed against the stage of the venue (punk, and even dance-punk, has never been a fan of barriers) – that I was “fine,” marking a moment in my life far more profound than I realized at the time.

The last time I saw Le Tigre (There were two times in-between: 2002 at 9:30 Club in DC and 2003 at The Troc), was at TLA in 2004.  They were touring their third and final LP, This Island, and the trio were introduced by Gloria Steinem, who was currently in town campaigning for John Kerry.  I was barely 20, studying at UArts, and not at the time a fan of their major label debut, but was still front and center to see the band kick out “classics” like “Deceptacon,” “Mediocrity Rules,” and “Well, Well, Well,” which still soundtracked my daily life, both literally and figuratively.

Just last month Kathleen Hanna was in the 215 on Bikini Kill’s reunion tour, whose Franklin Music Hall date had been postponed a minimum of three times.  And while the co-founders of riot grrrl’s 75-minute, 25-song set – captured by our very own Morgan Wladkowski – provided the most potent night of feminism the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection had seen in at least a decade, the January announcement of Le Tigre’s first tour since 2005 seemed to generate even more grrrlish excitement (potentially at least partially due to the smaller rooms and COVID’s hindrance on Bikini Kill’s tour, which was originally announced in November of 2019).

While the brunt of Le Tigre’s reunion dates were set to commence throughout Europe this June, before coming stateside in July, opening night would take place Saturday, May 27th, at our very own Union Transfer, a date that would sell out instantly, causing me to rephrase my characterization of the event as, “Where everyone like me will be that night,” to “Where everyone like me wishes they were that night.”  Still in the immediate aftershock of COVID cancellations, and in at least partial disbelief that Kathleen Hanna, Johanna Fateman, and JD Samson’s electropunk would ever return to nightclubs, the 1,300 of us with our Golden Tickets to the feminist dance party of the decade were as anxious as we were excited for the neon-colored covenstead right up until 9:20 that night, when the trio took the stage.

The set, which barely passed the hour mark, kicked off with “The The Empty” off of the band’s hyper-lo-fi 1999 self-titled debut, but the crowd really settled into their radical jubilation with song two, “TKO,” the band’s closest thing to a “hit” at its time of release.  The track comes from the Universal-released This Island – which I’d learned to love over the course of the band’s almost two-decade hiatus – and is a formidable banger that seemed to introduce the band’s radical feminist ideology to the outskirts of the mainstream in 2004.  And while those of us at a sold-out TLA that fall — who had been with the band from the beginning — really felt it when Hanna, Fateman, and Samson collectively proclaimed “Don’t You Know?  It’s our dance-floor!” during the song’s first chorus, it felt even more profound in 2023, when so many mainstreamers seem to be finally attempting to catch up to the band’s politics.

This Island actually provided two more of the evening’s highlights, with the equally anthemic “On The Verge” and “Viz,” a swaggy call for butch lesbians to claim their recognition amongst the masses, led by JD Samson, perhaps best known as “the dyke with the moustache.”  The high points of my night, however, came off of 2001’s Feminist Sweepstakes, with “FYR” (“Fifty Years of Ridicule”) — boasting immediately iconic lines like, “Can we trade title nine for an end to hate crime?” and “Celebrate gay marriage in Vermont by enforcing those old sodomy laws.” – led by Fateman and Samson in unison, and “Keep On Livin’,” which feature’s Samson’s musical manifesto for queer youth that is perhaps the most potent statement of the band’s entire catalogue.  Although it was the seven songs from the band’s debut that seemed to garner the most excitement from the crowd, including the wonderfully call-and-response-laden “What’s Yr Take on Cassavetes” and “My My Metrocard,” in addition to ballad “Eau d’Bedroom Dancing,” which closed the main set.

The evening’s spectacle included ‘80s-inspired video projections lining the back of the stage and featuring all of the night’s lyrics (which the majority in attendance would seem to find far more helpful than they would like to admit), the band’s famous DIY-choreographed dances (which Hanna has characterized as, “like The Supremes”), and even a mid-set costume-change during “Get Off the Internet,” the opening track to 2001 EP From the Desk of Mr. Lady.  And while the band seems to have aged barely more than a long summer since their last tour, the audience, almost exclusively Gen Xers and millennials, seemed quite a bit different from the joyfully rambunctious, suburb-trapped queer teens whose perhaps only entirely safe space in the early aughts was inside of a riot grrrl concert…  But that’s certainly not a bad thing…

I do wish that the set had included a few more numbers from Feminist Sweepstakes (It had 4.), the perfect intersection of punk radicalism and popularly delectable (and danceable) camp, but the only thing that could be considered a “disappointment” of any sort is the band’s performance of “Hot Topic,” which failed to include any sort of slideshow (an icon of riot grrrl equivalent to the light up KISS sign of arena rock) and the song’s final rollcall of outsider icons.  However, by the time the band finished, four songs later, with their ultimate gospel (and apparently the soundtrack of the trailer for FIFA 23), “Deceptacon,” it would’ve been hard to argue that Le Tigre could’ve possibly done anything more for not only those in attendance, but 21st Century queerness in general… And, for that, we thank them.

Live EventsMusicMusic Reviews

During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.