It's as if the 90s punk band Babes in Toyland had been in suspended animation for the last 18 years, and have suddenly reemerged as red-hot as ever. When I saw the three Babes in one of their first post-millennial shows last February at the Roxy in Los Angeles, I was blown away by their high energy on stage, their youthful looks, and how perfectly tight their raw spirited performance was. Kat was like a mad (as in hatter mad) teenage dissident punctuating every square inch of the stage, Lori beat the drums with furious precision, and Maureen, well it was as if she and her bass were having their own sensuous love affair on stage. The audience went nuts. How could these three women in Toyland also be working mommies in their forties?
The band is currently touring in Europe – their first tour since the late 1990s – and yesterday they just announced a North American tour that starts in August (dates and cities listed below). Walking off the plane after landing in Heathrow a few days ago, a young girl came running up to singer Kat Bjelland and handed her a crumpled napkin. Kat opened it up and found a hand-written note in blue ink: "I just wanted to say I love your style! You look like a rock star!"
Still in awe about their seamless reemergence, I asked my friend, Babes bassist Maureen Herman, how touring now compares to touring18 years ago.
"It feels the same, oddly. I look over and there's Kat screaming her head off and Lori flailing at the kit, and my body is just playing these songs like we never stopped. Thankfully, the audience is still there as great as ever. We are so lucky – we have the greatest fans."
Speaking of fans, I asked Herman if she had any fun stories from this tour yet? Of course she did.
"Back in the 90s on our tours of Europe and the UK we started to notice there was this one guy right in front at every show. So we started talking to him after the gigs and discovered he was hitchhiking, taking trains and buses all over to see us every night. So we started giving him rides. Once the van was so full we had to pack him in the back on top of the gear, where he happily stayed for a four-hour drive. But we got him in. I would have died of claustrophobia."
Cut to the current tour: "At the first UK show there was a familiar face in the crowd singing along. There he was – our #1 fan, Gary Egan! He has been at every show so far on this tour –right in front, singing along. At times it's kind of daunting playing these big shows again, so it always makes me feel so at home to see him out there, still, twenty years later."
What about the differences from then and now?
"Well, for me personally, it's great not touring with a wicked hangover every day. The biggest difference I notice at the shows is the age range. Pressed up to the front are teenagers and twenty-somethings right alongside people, well, my age. Nice to see grey hair in the mosh pit!
"Within the band, obviously we've evolved as people. Problems are dealt with more directly. We're more unified and goal-oriented in terms of what we're trying to accomplish. We've all become better at business decisions. Thankfully, we've gotten closer as friends and that makes the hard parts worth it."
Herman says for the most part touring "is EXACTLY THE SAME" as it was in the early days. Besides the introduction of GPS and cell phones, the routine of driving in a van, sleeping when she can, hanging out in the hotel for an hour, doing sound checks and interviews, signing at the merch table, hanging out with fans and friends when possible, and of course, playing hasn't changed a bit. But once she's on stage, the awesomeness of being on stage is always a novelty. "I will be playing a song live and ask myself how the hell did I end up in a rock band? This rock band? Then that makes me miss a change so I quit thinking about it and just play! Gratefully.
Remaining shows in Europe: 05-28 Glasgow, Scotland – Oran Mor 05-29 Barcelona, Spain – Primavera Sound Festival 06-01 Milan, Italy – Lo Fi Club 06-03 Ravenna, Italy – Beaches Brew Festival 06-06 Porto, Portugal – Primavera Sound Festival 06-21 Minneapolis, MN – Rock the Garden Festival
North American Tour: 08-27 St. Louis, MO – The Firebird 08-28 Kansas City, MO – The Riot Room 09-01 Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge 09-03 Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios 09-04 Vancouver, British Columbia – Biltmore Cabaret 09-05 Seattle, WA – Bumbershoot Festival 09-15 Covington, KY – Madison Theatre 09-17 New York, NY – Irving Plaza 09-19 Montreal, Quebec – Pop Montreal