Franklin Music Hall is a large Philly venue — 3,000 capacity on a normal show — and that was not lost on Bikini Kill or opener Brontez Purnell Friday night. Both acts brought up the house lights before beginning their sets to see a multitude of smiling faces staring back at them. Faces that were quite excited to be there and cheer for just about any movement on stage throughout the night.
“Don’t cheer yet, you don’t even know if you like us yet,”Brontez said in a flirtatious manner, drawing out the “t” in “yet.”
Brontez Purnell, joined by drummer Sean Teves and bassist Cookie Hagendorf, hails from the Oakland, California punk scene. Brontez’s music, much like their many other artistic expressions, bluntly maps out the experiences that make up their identity as a vocal sex-positive elder millennial (see Gravy Train!!! And The Younger Lovers). The crowd, being largely quite young, got educated on things from 70s underground LGBTQ zines to alternative bands from the 90s.
“Thanks everyone, we are Hootie and the Blowfish,” Brontez joked in a plainly self-aware manner. Furthering the bit, he began to explain who that band was after a song off 2020’s White Boy Music.
Early in the set Brontez played “Jaboukie” which had dropped just two days prior, on April 6th.The sassy song originally shared its title with Brontez’s book 100 Boyfriends, but he ultimately decided to name it after someone who liked to slip into his DMs. The crowd received the new track excitedly, listening closely and dancing to the rhythms.
There were several powerful messages from Brontez and his band members: bassist Cookie took some time in the spotlight to express the gratitude that they have now, in their 40s, are able to be the woman they always wanted to be, playing music and slinging lesbian zines. When they finished, Cookie was met with a loud cheer from the Franklin Music Hall crowd.
“So Bikini Kill is a Riot Grrrl band from the 90s…and they’re up next!” Brontez exclaimed.
Bikini Kill took the stage, immediately enveloped by the roar of the crowd. Frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, equipped with a big bottle of OJ, took to the microphone. Speaking to the rescheduling elephant in the room, she told people about having COVID in Silver Springs, watching the tour bus food and Lara bar wrappers pile up in her hotel room. She ended her story with a deep breath and a pause, looking out into the crowd she told everyone that she was just really excited.
By the end of “This Is Not A Test,” the second song in, Kathleen Hanna was in full agent-of-chaos swing. Just the way the fans like her, riled up, raw and elevating everyone in the crowd Friday night at Franklin Music Hall.
Bikini Kill’s set felt like the Hall Of Presidents exhibit at Disneyland, but instead of stuffy problematic “White Boy”s, it featured stories about a blow up hammer that said “Girl Power!,” dangerous parking garage roof shows, and self care routines/taking care of oneself in general, something Kathleen Hanna said she’s still figuring out…and on cue, Bikini Kill played “Reject All American.”
Leading into “No Backrub” Kathleen Hanna dedicated the song to bucking against those who tell women and the LGBTQ peoples that “we aren’t shit, that we suck…” The night featured song dedications to close experiences or beliefs the band members have. During one of the many times drummer/vocalist Toni Vail took center stage, she dedicated “Outta Me” to people trying to unionize at their job. Kathleen Hannah turned down heteronormative expectations about dress code for “Girl Soldier”, referring to the “gittery shield” she was wearing on her chest.
The crowd Friday night at Franklin Music Hall ranged from Bikini Kill’s OG fanbase, 20-somethings crowd surfing, and children with sound canceling headphones held up to see by their parent. As Kathleen Hanna pointed out, their fanbase overall is intergenerational. So it wasn’t surprising in light of how important the band’s impact has been on several marginalized groups and their contributions in their empowerment through their fast and loud rock and roll catalog.
All ages enjoyed “Suck My Left One,” too, yelling each word in the chorus with Kathleen Hanna as she screamed along and turned the microphone outwards.
Bikini Kill wrapped up the night with “Rebel Girl,” the anthem rallying call that rang the loudest amongst the intergenerational and proudly queer crowd. It felt like a giant boost, everyone’s head held high as they left the venue.