Originally from Woodburn, Oregon, vocalist/guitarist Kat Bjelland (formerly of Pagan Babies with Courtney Love) relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bjelland met drummer Lori Barbero at a friend's barbecue. Over the following months, Bjelland convinced Barbero to play drums and they formed Babes in Toyland in 1987 with various bassists over time. Between 1989 and 1995, Babes in Toyland released three studio albums before becoming inactive in 1997 and eventually disbanding in 2001. While the band was inspirational to some performers in the riot grrrl movement in the Pacific Northwest, the members of Babes in Toyland never associated themselves with the movement. Babes in Toyland's most recent studio album is 1995's Nemesisters. Babes in Toyland reformed in 2014 and the new trio consists of Bjelland, Barbero and bassist Clara Salyer.
At Irving Plaza tonight, Babes in Toyland revisited 17 of the band's garage punk anthems from the 1990s and kept them raw and angry. The three musicians seemed to make little attempt to polish the muddy rampage. Long, messy strands of dark hair dancing over her face, Bjelland howled her lyrics from her gut, and her fuzz-intoned guitar licks both scraped the floor and then soared into the sky while the rhythm section pounded ominous tribal beats. There was nothing cute or sweet about this roaring onslaught -- no snappy dance tunes, no harnessed harmonies, no charming anecdotes between songs. The set was coarse and crude and even as it crashed into the soundspace like a downed aircraft, it somehow remained utterly feminine. This was not a female interpretation of a male-defined punk genre, this was a fierce release of untamed, unhinged power. There is room in the music world for women rockers to obliterate the norms and be this raucous -- all we need now from Babes in Toyland is new songs.
Visit Babes in Toyland at www.babesintoyland.com.