Could there be any better way to kick off Pride? Electro-punk legends Le Tigre have returned to touring after 18 long years, and they’ve brought an explosive cocktail of LGBT and feminist joy, art, desire and anger.
Frontwoman Kathleen Hanna – also known for her riot grrrl outfit Bikini Kill, and coming up with the title for Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit – struggled with Lyme Disease for years, just playing occasional gigs with bandmates Johanna Fateman and JD Samson.
But the first UK stop of their big return, hitting east London’s art deco Troxy, couldn’t have been more raw or triumphant.
Striding on to stage – after fantastic, swaggering opener Dream Wife – they launch into The The Empty. It’s a great choice that sums up the DIY scene they come from and indicates the evening’s punk disco to come. Beginning with scuzzy, furious guitars, Fateman’s cool refrain of ‘all that glitters is not gold’ is punctuated with Hanna’s frenzied cries of ‘Oh, baby, why won’t you talk to me?’ and ‘Answer me!’
The band are full of energy that doesn’t let up, whether playing and dancing to electro bops or guitar-heavy rock offerings. Hanna gives her trademark shrill screech throughout – a subversive, self-consciously feminine expression of punk.
Despite a driving anger and overt political messages, or perhaps because of them, Le Tigre are a party band. Songs rely on synthy, poppy hooks and repeated chants. Lyrics projected on the screen behind the stage make the whole night into a karaoke rave.
And at one point Hanna, Fateman and Samson even leave the stage and re-emerge in matching black and white outfits to execute a corny, choreographed dance. Back in the day, they saw Nsync’s matching costumes and dances and thought ‘they can do that just because they’re really big… why can’t we too?’ explains Hanna, to cheers.
The sense of celebration and relief continues. Hanna is out on the other side, she shares, after struggling not only with Lyme Disease but also PTSD – which she turns into a rallying cry as she launches into Keep On Livin’.
Particularly powerful was Samson’s lesbian visibility anthem, Viz, seeing her take centre-stage to sing: ‘They call it way too rowdy, I call it finally free.’ Before starting, Samson recalls a party years ago when she claims that chat show host Jimmy Fallon mistook her for a man. ‘I’m not a man, I’m a woman with a moustache!’ she says. ‘But he learned something that day. So this song is about Jimmy Fallon.’
There’s more, and more. The band rip through their catalogue, and revisiting it seems as much a treat for them as the audience. The ironic What’s Your Take On Cassavetes is there, plus feminist rallying cry FYR (standing for ‘50 years of ridicule’), kitschy My My Metrocard, and Hot Topic, a crash-course in radical pop culture figures (the crowd goes wild at the Sleater-Kinney name-drop).
There’s harder rock in On The Verge and political yell-along Seconds (‘you make me sick, sick, sick!’) And of course, there would have been riots if they hadn’t finished with big 1999 hit Deceptacon, full of pop loops, funky bass and colliding, euphoric riffs.
This is a band that absolutely know themselves, and don’t need to bring anything to a gig except bangers. Le Tigre know how to make an audience feel like they are part of something special, but they never once phone it in. Their set is full of heart and soul.
Despite there being no new material, the night couldn’t be further from a stale nostalgia-fest. Instead, the rawness and the freshness of their songs, 20 years on, felt like the future – a dam bursting, the unfolding of something big and transformative. It’s a little sad that there’s no hint of new music yet. However, if this is the energy they are reuniting with, we can expect great things.