Who Took The Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour was shown twice during this year’s Seattle International Film Festival as part of the Face The Music series. There were no advance screeners so we weren’t able to do a preview for it, but I caught the second showing at the Egyptian Theatre on Capitol Hill in Seattle on the afternoon of June 7, 2011.
I am glad it worked out that way, as hearing this late and beloved electro-punk protest pop trio on a big ass theatre sound system was best. Like being bum-rush snogged by a fresh thing at a very clean party filled with dapper types and swanky ladies, the amping of the music was a sweet and senses-stirring surprise. Songs like “F.Y.R.” and “Hot Topic” liberally dose the documentary with a cocktail kick of kerosene ‘n’ kool-aid, mix-taping the best elements of riot grrrl growl with glitter-punk bop. So it sounds especially fierce-fun when matched to the wonderfully playful and excited dance moves on the big screen.
If this whole hype-write seems fanzine-like stylee, that’s where it all began, with guitarist/vocalist/dancer/ etc. Johanna Fateman first making zines that caught the eye of legendary Kathleen Hannah. The Bikini Kill frontwoman had kicked plenty of misogynist ass with her punk club bands, and her late 90s transitional troupe Julie Ruin had also charmingly strutted into some hip-hop (the immortal take on “I Want To Know What Love Is”) and techno territory chopped among the noise-salads. She tightened her tunes into drum machine driven uptempo pogo-bursts with Fateman and original player Sadie Benning, replaced later by the media-confounding JD Samson (and her own fetching style of lady-androgyny). Gritty snarls of guitar grind the rhythms to the vocals, often shouting but also singing when the soul moment hits.
As silly as the B-52s, as emotionally charged as Sinead O’Connor, and as unity-stoking as early Stiff Little Fingers, Le Tigre were a great band for their time -- but you can hear their influence from Peaches to the Dum Dum Girls; even in those bands that people adore these days that aren’t nearly as political (or simply thought-provoking). Le Tigre rocked hard , but they didn’t use obvious sources of musical or marketing power to do it (“You’ll never hear us try to do a Led Zep solo,” she says in the film).
It’s the often-caustic personal commitment to confronting unfairness that mixes with Le Tigre’s more sarcastic resistance to rock and roll ass kissing which makes Who Took The Bomp? such a dizzying ride. Director Kerthy Fix (Strange Powers) captures it all, though leaving out where Benning went, why this is the band’s last tour being documented (no reason given for the break up). It puts the audience in the moment, but without context makes it seem a little too personality focused. Hannah seems like a combination of Malcolm X mixed with Wonder Woman, which is intoxicatingly powerful, though probably grating to those not equally convicted (the same could be said of Joe Strummer too, but nobody would dare to). Fix allows the other two plenty of screen time to compensate, which is probably wise. Or the band’s own egalitarian decision, which wouldn’t surprise. The good news is that all these personalities are joyfully rattling in themselves -- who wouldn’t fall in love with the strangely dry wit and hipster innocence of the appropriately named, athletic Samson? -- almost as spleen-shifting as the terse, buoyant, irresistibly flamboyant, and outrageously inspiring music which makes up your mind for all 69 minutes of Who Took The Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour.
Who Took The Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour is now available on DVD (out this week!) from Oscilloscope Laboratories. You can find it in discerning record and video shops or online. Here’s a clip from the movie of their rockin’ set closer, “Deceptacon”: