Catching The Julie Ruin
On Tuesday I headed to Easthampton, Mass., to catch the band The Julie Ruin at the Flywheel Arts Collective, an old church that has been converted into an all-ages venue.
The Julie Ruin is not especially well-known, although it should be: Their frontwoman is the legendary Kathleen Hanna, who founded the hugely influential punk band Bikini Kill, was a big part of Riot Grrl, the underground feminist punk movement of the 1990s, and later formed the electronica/rock/punk band Le Tigre. Full disclosure: Though I’ve long been aware of Hanna, I hadn’t listened to her music very much until recently, and I became more interested in her after watching the very good 2013 documentary “The Punk Singer,” which tells her story. The Julie Ruin concert was announced around the time I saw “The Punk Singer,” and I immediately bought tickets.
The Julie Ruin has one album, “Run Fast,” and it’s very good — hard-charging, lyrically inventive, noisy yet surprisingly poppy and extremely danceable. At times, the band sounds a little like the B-52s, but with a rawer, punkier edge. Much of Tuesday’s show consisted of songs off the Julie Ruin’s album, as well as older Hanna material, such as the song “Radical or Pro-parental,” off her criminally unknown 1997 solo album, also titled the Julie Ruin.
In “The Punk Singer,” Hanna disclosed that she has Lyme disease, and that her decision to stop touring and recording with Le Tigre was due to her health problems. But she was in fine form on Tuesday, stopping occasionally to tell jokes and stories and singing with gusto and feeling. Hanna has real stage presence, and her performance was complemented by her bandmates, particularly keyboardist Kenny Mellman.
Tuesday’s gig at the Flywheel marked the first night of The Julie Ruin’s tour, but the band sounded pretty tight and I suspect they’ll get even better as the tour progresses. The Julie Ruin played for about an hour, but it was a high-energy show and I don’t think anybody felt that they didn’t get their money’s worth. The encore, “Run Fast,” is one of the best songs off the band’s album, a catchy, engaging song with a melancholy undertone. Emotionally, The Julie Ruin runs the gamut, and by the end of the show I felt like I’d covered a lot of ground.
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