Review and Photography by John Bentley

Babes in Toyland

A lot of legendary bands seem to be reforming to play tours at the moment and tonight Manchester’s Gorilla is sold out for one of only a small number of UK gigs by seminal US female punk ensemble Babes in Toyland. This is the band’s first tour in 18 years and so there is a lot of excitement in the air.

For the next hour there is a full-on musical assault, as the trio of singer / guitarist Kat Bjelland, bassist Maureen Herman and drummer Lori Barbero take us on a rapid-fire journey through the three uncompromising and highly influential albums the band made between 1990 and 1995. Babes in Toyland fell apart rather acrimoniously in the years after their last album so it’s great to see the definitive line-up together on stage and so obviously enjoying the proceedings.

Babes in Toyland

Back in the day, Babes in Toyland were famous for sporting a ‘babydoll’ or ‘kinderwhore’ dress style, later famously adopted by Courtney Love, who, it is claimed, tried to become a member of the band in its early days. But tonight Babes in Toyland seem relatively conservatively attired, not that this means the music has less attitude. Bjelland still commands most attention, as she aggressively shreds the songs with her powerful voice. She stares manically into the abyss, looking scary in the sickly blue-light that envelopes her for most of the gig. Barbero seems most obviously to be enjoying herself at the back behind the drums, with a broad grin across her face for much of the evening.

The enthusiastic audience are plainly really into it, with much moshing at the front. The crowd is diverse, consisting of all ages and, unsurprisingly there is a large female contingent. Throughout the gig there is a soft eerie light on the band, which illuminates the audience, as much as the players. It’s as if the band really want to engage with their fans and see the reaction to the music as they play.

Babes in Toyland

Fans are unlikely to complain about the setlist, which provides a real ‘best of’ selection from across Babes in Toyland’s all too brief career. The band deliver favourites like ‘Swamp Pussy’, ‘Handsome and Gretel’, ‘Vomit Heart’, ‘Sweet 69’ and ‘Bruise Violet’, the latter’s barbed lyrics reputedly about Courtney Love.

As the gig ends, Lori, who has played really solid drums all evening, comes to the front of the stage and takes photos of the audience. The brief encore is ‘Dust Cake Boy’, after which Kat Bjelland tells us we’re an awesome crowd, in very sweet tones that are nothing like her searing singing voice. The word is overused nowadays, but it truly has been an awesome evening, an intense experience from a seminal band. The passing years have not diminished Babes in Toyland and we can only hope that their current creative high results in an album of new material.

Support band is Skating Polly. Appropriately, this guitar / drums female duo from Oklahoma City, USA, is very much in the punk spirit of Babes in Toyland and is plainly influenced by them. The band deliver a  frantic, fiery set, with members Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse alternating between drums and guitars, although Kelli actually plays a bass guitar with three strings. This youthful band already have a number of albums behind them and have received praise from many musicians, including Oklahoma’s own Wayne Coyne, of Flaming Lips fame. The set goes down well, with the audience appreciating that they are very much fellow travellers in the Babes in Toyland camp.

Skating Polly

Skating Polly

But most importantly it is obvious that Skating Polly are passionately into their music.

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Babes in Toyland setlist:
Right Now
Bluebell
Spit to See the Shine
Oh Yeah
Bruise Violet
Swamp Pussy
Won’t Tell
He’s My Thing
Ariel
Handsome & Gretel
Spun
Pearl
Ripe
Vomit Heart
Sweet ’69
Dust Cake Boy

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