Babes in Toyland return to a packed First Avenue Mainroom


Friday night in Minneapolis was sweltering hot. Although it was the official “first day of fall” it felt a lot more like the middle of July. The humidity hung thick in the air – the kind of heat that just sticks to you. But that sticky hot night didn’t stop Minneapolis music fans from heading down to the iconic First Avenue to catch the even more iconic Babes in Toyland.

So chances are, if you’re reading this, you already know who Babes in Toyland are. You know their music and the staple they’ve become to the Minneapolis music scene. As I was writing this, I was afraid this would start sounding like a “What Babes in Toyland Means To Me” school essay. But honestly – I didn’t know how else to approach this other than as deeply personal review of the Babes in Toyland show and what they’ve come to mean to me over the years.

So I’ll be honest – I wasn’t alive when Babes in Toyland started making music. Neither was their opener Bruise Violet. But there is something about Babes in Toyland that has resonated with me, and so many others, even across the decades. Babes in Toyland in a way, takes you back to a different time. A time when punk was alive and well, when the Riot Grrrl movement was sweeping the nation (although, it’s important to note Babes in Toyland was never formerly a part of the Riot Grrrl movement).

I was in  college when I began digging into bands like Sleater Kinney (mostly because of my obsession with Carrie Brownstein) which opened my musical rolodex to a whole new world of bands. One of those bands was Babes in Toyland. There’s an unabashedness badass-ery about Babes in Toyland. As a college student, that middle finger to the patriarchy, forget your expectations of women, really resonated with me for the first time. And Babes in Toyland was a part of that exploration for me.

Babes in Toyland fast, aggressive breed of punk flung them into the spotlight in the late 80s and early 90s. And after a hiatus, they made their triumphant return to music, with founding members Kat Bjelland and Lori Barbero and new comer Clara Salyer. Their return to music brought them to the forefront of the punk music scene for a whole new generation of fans – myself included.

Getting to witness what what have more or less becomes legends take the First Ave Mainroom stage was nothing short of magical on Friday night. Lori Barbero vocals are a pure force of nature. Watching Bjelland and Barbero who are roughly the age of my mom, rock so hard was honestly visceral. It was inspirational – and not in a cliche or cheesy way.

It’s no secret we are living in a youth-obsessed culture that writes off women over the age of 25. But there I stood watching these women well into their 50s rock harder than any band I’ve ever see. It was a set that  made me say “I want to do that.” Don’t get too excited – I’m not start a band, but just have that same “fuck what you think” attitude well into my 30s, 40, 50s, and 60s. As someone who grew up with standards of women handed to me through Disney Channel and Teen Vogue, the likes of Babe in Toyland, and their opener Bruise Violet, give me hope. These are the kind of women I want my kids to look up to one day. Women who whether they are 17 or 57 are just doing their thing and not caring what anyone thinks. That’s the kind of role models the next generation need.

Keeping the spirit of Babes in Toyland alive is of course Bruise Violet – the Twin Cities three piece who takes their name from the Babes in Toyland song. If you haven’t had a chance to see Bruise Violet live, seriously, you need to. From their guttural screams, to pitch perfect harmonies, to a song about a boy who was mean to guitarist/vocalist Emily Schoonover in fourth grade, they are a band to be experienced live.

“This is like a dream come true for us,” drummer/vocalist Danielle Cusack said during their set. “If you would have told me when we started this band that we would be sharing a stage with Babes in Toyland I probably would have punched you in the face,” she went on jokingly. Talk about a full circle moment.

Bassist/vocalist Bella Dawson is a force of nature in her own right. Bruise Violet rocked the mainroom, despite Schoonover’s cold. “I swear I’m cursed. Everytime I play here i get sick,” Schoonover’s said. “Yeah, she took a honey shot before our set. And spilled honey all over the floor,” Cusack chimed in. “But don’t worry, I cleaned it up.” Schoonover said. “Yeah – we’re responsible punks,” they joked.

Situated in between Bruise Violet and Babes in Toyland was Porcupine. This three piece has a sound that harkens back to the era when Babes in Toyland got their start. However, they actually formed in 2006 here in the Twin Cities by guitarist/vocalist Casey Virock. Rounding out the band is Greg Norton on bass and Ian Prince on drums.

“The last time he played here was like 30 years ago,” Virock said regarding Norton, who got his start playing with the legendary Hüsker Dü. 30 years or not – Norton and Porcupine rocked the mainroom with the gumption of any headlining band.