Le Tigre kicked off their first club tour in almost 20 years at Union Transfer - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
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The last time the revered electropunk power trio Le Tigre went on tour was in 2005, in the thick of the Iraq war and the aftermath their third album This Island. Their last Philly-area date goes even further back: November 2003 at The Trocadero.

“This is our first club show in almost 20 years,” multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Johanna Fateman told the Union Transfer crowd on Saturday night. “Here’s a song we hoped would no longer be relevant.”

The band then launched into “FYR” (shorthand for “fifty years of ridicule”), a cut from Le Tigre’s Feminist Sweepstakes LP featuring synth wizard and vocalist J.D. Samson stepping to the front of the stage with rapid-fire bars critiquing various sorts of institutional oppression circa 2001: “Can we trade title nine for an end to hate crime?” “Toss us a few new AIDS drugs as national healthcare bites the dust.” “While you were on vacation black people didn’t get reparations.” As singer-guitarist Kathleen Hanna reflected at the song’s conclusion, only one lyric had to get updated — everything else could stay in place as a comment on the times of 2023.

The outlook could be bleak, but Hanna chooses to see it another way. “These motherfuckers are hanging on by their last legs,” she told the crowd. “It seems like they’re winning, but they’re not. They’re terrified.”

Le Tigre | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

In an era of infuriating headlines, not the least of which is the wave of anti-trans legislation in states across the country and the repeal of Roe v. Wade, it seems as fitting a time as ever for the pro-queer pro-femme Le Tigre (along with Hanna’s foundational riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, who played Philly in April) to be back on the scene. But as much as Fateman, Hanna, and Samson’s lyrics sharply deliver cultural and political critique, they do it through lively and electrifying rhythms and infectious hooks that hit as hard today as they did at the turn of the millennium. As such, the energy of the Union Transfer crowd followed the famed Audrey Lorde quote: “joy is an act of resistance.”

We heard it in the night’s breaks for silly banter, like when Hanna’s pre-song hydration pause was met with cheers, so she shared a story about a friend at a wedding unwittingly participating in an “interstate chug” ritual. We saw it in the sleek costume change from multi-hued garments to sleek black-and-white couture patterned with geometric shapes. We felt it in the way the sold out crowd — made up of longtime fans, parents attending with their young children, and many folks of all ages experiencing Le Tigre for the first time — threw their hands in the air and leapt in time to the galvanizing “Viz,” singing “They call it coolness, and we call it visibility / They call it way too rowdy, and we call it finally free” with the charismatic Samson once again working the front row.

Le Tigre | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

“If you’re going to come all the way to Philly, put on a fucking show,” Hanna said, going on to remark that the gig was “way funner than I thought it would be.” This feeling more than went both ways; from the thick of the elated audience, the night’s imperfections were few, if any, and aren’t worth getting into; it was, after all, their first night of the first tour in almost two decades. By the time the “Mediocrity Rules” moved into “Shred A” and then “Seconds,” the room was collectively lost in the moment. The anthemic “Hot Topic” made the show’s best use of the projection screen — its lyrics are essentially a rollcall of feminist and progressive icons in art, music, and culture, and as names popped up on the screen, pockets of the crowd could be heard cheering for their faves, whether they be Sleater-Kinney or Angela Davis.

This brought Hanna back to the hopeful reflection she shared earlier in the set. “There are so many reasons to give up,” she said. “It’s normal to feel that way with the way world is right now. It’s hard to look out in the world and feel hated.” But she and the band implore the crowd to stay strong with the set’s penultimate song, the roof-raising “Keep On Livin’,” which had the concert’s pulse that highest it got until a show-closing-encore of “Deceptacon” tore the roof off.

Opening the show was Philly-via-Vegas indie singer-songwriter Shamir, who just signed with Kill Rock Stars and releases his first new single for the label, “Oversized Sweater,” on June 8th. That song got its live debut early in his set, and along with other new album teasers “Appetizer” and “Our Song,” it showed that Shamir’s next release might boast some of his best songs to date, fusing personal and idiosyncratic lyrics with engaging hooks in a more captivating manner than ever.

Check out photos from the show in the gallery below. Le Tigre’s tour continues this Thursday at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival, jaunts across the UK and Europe, and returns to North America on July 1st to play Oakland; full date can be found here.

Shamir | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Shamir | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Le Tigre | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Le Tigre | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Le Tigre | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

[full gallery]

Setlist
May
27
Le Tigre
Union Transfer
  • The the Empty
  • TKO
  • FYR
  • My My Metrocard
  • Whats Yr Take On Cassavetes
  • Mediocrity Rules
  • Shred A
  • Seconds
  • Get Off The Internet
  • Yr Critique
  • On Guard
  • On The Verge
  • Viz
  • Hot Topic
  • Keep On Livin'
  • Eau d'Bedroom Dancing
  • Phanta
  • Deceptacon
Setlist
May
27
Shamir
Union Transfer
  • Gay Agenda
  • Reproductive
  • Oversize Sweater
  • On My Own
  • Other Size
  • Appetizer
  • TEARS
  • Cisgender
  • Our Song
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