Bikini Kill-ing It

Live at the Roadrunner 

Words: Mia Huang
October 28, 2023

After a 22 year long split, Bikini Kill reunited in 2019 and have been on a touring rampage ever since. This show is their first in Boston since the reunion.

Pussy Whipped plays on my headphones as I nervously sit on a train, traveling alone for the first time. Luckily some leather-sporting, pin-wearing punks come my way, see my 90s riot grrrl shirt, and invite me to tag along with them on the journey.

The venue buzzes with energy, and I find a spot near the front. It’s weird flying solo in a place where everyone has a group, but it offers space for some fun people watching.

“I’ve waited so many years for this, I’m getting us to the barricades,” an older woman eagerly says to her friend. They push past me and shove in front of these younger people at the barrier. In response to this, a father respectfully tells them to piss off, and they walk away with a giggly, embarrassed sense of defeat.

A girl next to me converses with her bandmates about the setlist for a show they’re playing tomorrow.

A group of friends pass around a sharpie. They write “SLUT” across their bodies like Bikini Kill’s front woman, Kathleen Hanna, used to do at their Bikini Kill concerts decades prior. They offer their marker to me, and I do the same.

The opening act, Brontez Purnell, gets the crowd moving with his songs and banter– recollections of the punk scene in the 80s and commentary about his life and the world he lives in now.

Excitement swells with his performance, and then the crowd electrifies as Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail, Kathi Wilcox, and Sara Ladeau walk on stage in all their glory. I don’t think I’ve ever been so starstruck before. These figures that I’ve read about, watched on screen, researched, and learned from (I’ve written research papers on them), are right in front of me, rocking out. The cheers grow louder as they greet us with the iconic line we’ve all been waiting for:

“We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution Girl-style now!”
Double Dare Ya” begins and every single audience member is screaming along, myself included. The members of the band wear vibrant, neon colors and Tobi Vail, on the drums, looks like a total rockstar with neon pink hair and sunglasses. Kathi and Sara stoically shred on the bass and guitar. And Kathleen Hanna commands the stage with her unabashed presence and unique voice, jumping, dancing, and traveling around the stage.

Throughout their set the band members take turns on all of the instruments, which is both impressive and telling of how much time they have devoted to working together as a team and creating music. “Making mistakes opens doors for you to make art,” Kathleen says. Tobi Vail takes the mic for a couple of songs, including the iconic “Hamster Baby,” and both Tobi and Kathleen talk to the audience about everything from self care to cancel culture to online friendship to the secret life of Jojo Siwa. They make us laugh, and I would be lying if I said I don’t shed a tear or two when Kathleen tells us a story about a tough break up with someone who was everything to her. She tells us that “it’s not the end of the world, even though it feels like it.” I believe the woman with all my heart.

They blast through so many of my favorite songs like “Carnival”, “Alien She”, “Resist Psychic Death”, and “Outta Me.” The crowd moshes and screams and sings and stage dives. There is this angelic giant of an audience member who lifts people up and helps guide the crowd surfers safely to the barrier. The only reason I don’t get up there is because after the surfers reach the barrier, security rushes them off to the sides, and they disappear. I genuinely wonder where they end up because I never see them again.

Thoughts of possible twisted endings for the crowd surfers cease as my attention snaps back to my hero, Kathleen Hanna, at the mic. She proudly states that this day, April 9th, 2023, marks Boston’s first Riot Grrrl Day, which I will now be celebrating.

Kathleen then talks about her sister, who she doesn’t particularly like but gives respect to for the badass response she shoots at people who catcall her:


Is the phrase bursting out of everyone’s souls. The earth quakes underneath our jumping, so much so that if the floor below me collapses, I would  understand why. The band leaves after the song is over, but the audience remains. We open up a circle pit and start running to no music.

Then… they come back (quite flattered by the circle pit to silence too)! And they perform their most popular anthem “Rebel Girl!” I end up making my way even closer to the barrier, and then my perfect experience becomes even more incredible… During the chorus, I’m singing and jumping around, when I figure: why not give Kathleen Hanna a little wave?  So I give her a little wave. AND SHE POINTS AT ME AND WAVES BACK!! IN THE MIDDLE OF SINGING REBEL GIRL!! I still can't believe it. I don’t think I’ll ever believe it.

To sum it all up, Bikini Kill took me on a journey I never thought possible due to lack of a time machine and a plane. They not only performed their music with insurmountable grit and spunk, but they educated, laughed with, and comforted the audience like they were our  best friends. It was awesome.

Photography by Mia Huang






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