Live review: Kathleen Hanna’s the Julie Ruin moves the Echoplex

Kathleen Hanna and her band the Julie Ruin perform at the Echoplex.
Kathleen Hanna and her band the Julie Ruin perform at the Echoplex.
(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic

She was smiling as she said it, but on Thursday night at the Echoplex with her band the Julie Ruin, singer Kathleen Hanna stood onstage with a no-nonsense attitude.

“This is business, you guys,” she said between songs, possessing the tone of the world’s best boss. “And I want to thank you for coming to this meeting. I’m not really sure what it’s about yet, but I think it will become apparent as we get to know each other better.”

Gradually, joyously, and with great magnetism, the agenda became clear. She presented talking points on “sewing up ideas like delicious kisses” during “V.G.I.,” described herself to the 700-capacity club as less a genius than a genie, “granting girls wishes from my stone-cold bikini.” In “Lookout,” Hanna warned of trouble ahead while founding Bikini Kill bassist Kathi Wilcox and guitarist Sara Landeau hit pointed bursts. “There’s a storm out, there’s a storm out/It’s got a rhythm that nobody can ride out.”

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Appearing in support of their fuel-injected new album, “Run Fast,” the five members of Julie Ruin delivered a dozen-plus bursting dance rock songs to an adoring crowd, many of whom had internalized Hanna’s voice and message through her work as co-founder of the Riot Grrrl feminist movement of the 1990s and as lead singer of Le Tigre in the ‘00s.

Through her output with Bikini Kill, the Riot Grrrl fanzine (with Wilcox and Tobi Vail), Le Tigre and beyond, Hanna has long spoken truth to power, and along the way has drawn the devotion of generations longing for a charismatic, strong voice to help navigate society’s gender issues.

Introducing her “Radical or Pro-Parental,” for example, Hanna explained that the song was “about how it’s totally ridiculous that there’s supposed to be one kind of woman or one kind or girl.... There’s as many different kinds of feminism as there are women.” The band’s songs tackled such ideas throughout the set.

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If it sounds academic and message-heavy on paper, in performance the band’s approach was pure joy, like the B-52s remixing Hannah Arendt. It didn’t hurt that keyboardist and backing barker Kenny Mellman delivered his accents with a Fred Schneider tone. The Tony-nominated Mellman, best known as Herb in the New York drag cabaret act Kiki & Herb, was the perfect foil to Hanna: both are fearless vocalists who thrived not on perfect pitch but animalistic expression.

Mellman’s ode to the Orange County of his youth, “South Coast Plaza,” was a wind-sprint recollection, set in a treehouse, about smoking cigarettes, getting drunk on wine coolers, making pacts, driving to get tacos and passing out in the car. “I don’t know what we were feeling at the time but it was summer,” sang Mellman, Hanna harmonizing.

Another highlight, “Right Home,” was an infectious Hanna-sung new wave ditty about the power of the late-night dance floor, the joys and perils of being the life of the party. A three minute recounting of an evening on the town, the song highlighted an expert lyricist at her best, especially when, against her better judgment, she lands at an after-party where she needs a rum and Coke (or three) and might want to sing. “I look real good, look good, I am!” she chanted, her face alight, before making a decision.

“I can still feel my legs and I can smell the smoke, but really right now I wanna go home,” she sang, as if to declare the meeting adjourned. “I need a ride home! I’m headed right home!” she screamed, a tinge of doubt tempering her confidence.


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