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Oakland’s Mosswood Meltdown returned to Mosswood Park with a shiver this year, cloaked in a bizarre July chill.
Given the gloom, the ongoing pandemic, gun violence and political turmoil, the collective gathering on Saturday and Sunday for the sake of punk and its subversive thrust felt a little more desperate, a little more defiant.
Following the reversal of Roe v. Wade a mere week earlier, Flipper’s throat-shredding delivery of “Life Is Cheap” and Bikini Kill’s ever-powerful performance of “Feels Blind” blistered with new meaning.
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And then, of course, the festival community had its own set of ills to contend with.
“Congratulations on the hard pivot,” said Shannon Shaw during her set on Saturday, alluding to the allegations of longtime sexual misconduct and grooming made against Burger Records artists in 2020. In the years prior, the annual two-day summer music festival was known as Burger Boogaloo, and it often featured artists from the Burger music label.
Shaw’s statement was a sincere sentiment. Women undoubtedly ruled the festival this year, in word and in deed.
Before their 1 p.m. Saturday set at the amphitheater stage, members of the Oakland band Twompsax hung two large hot pink flags spray-painted with the messages, “F— America, hands off our bodies” and “Twompsax, abortion is a right.”
After John Waters’ introduction, the band played bursts of one- to two-minute hardcore punk songs, as the front woman Cher Strauberry commanded the stage, crouching and leaping and scream-singing into a pink telephone receiver while smoking a cigarette.
Strauberry, a transgender activist, gave an emotional speech toward the end of Twompsax’s 15-minute set. She said the group’s message is that trans kids can do anything they want: “You’re valid; you’re valued; you’re f—ing loved.”
Bleached graced the amphitheater stage at 5 p.m., inspiring scores of candy-colored heads to bob along with iconic girl anthems “Think of You” and “Rebound City.”
Shannon Shaw followed, playing the main stage with a trio of backup singers called the Donettes.
By 8 p.m., festivalgoers young and old waited with bated breath for Saturday’s headliner, Kim Gordon. When she finally took the stage over a half hour later, the sky had grown dark, the crowd hushed.
With seductive ease, Gordon singlehandedly swapped a flannel-clad soundscape for silk, slinking her way through teasing, textural tracks like “Murdered Out” and “Paprika Pony,” flanked by guitarist Sarah Register, bassist Camilla Charlesworth and drummer Madi Vogt.
Sunday saw slightly more sunlight and was animated by early sets by Fatty Cakes and the Puff Pastries and Spanish band Podium.
Following sets by the Younger Lovers’ Brontez Purnell, the Fevers and San Francisco queercore pioneers Pansy Division, L.A.-based punk band the Linda Lindas, ages 11-17, saturated the main stage with contagious youthful energy.
Then it was back to the amphitheater stage for Hunx and His Punx.
Front man and visual artist Seth Bogart was especially cheeky in an open leather jacket and a banana hammock. Between songs, he lamented his Saturday night with two “daddies” and joked about performing “Too Young to Be in Love” and “The Curse of Being Young” as a man in his early 40s. Shannon Shaw joined the band onstage and contributed her signature smoky vocals.
Bikini Kill, the original riot grrrl band, was an especially apt pick for the festival’s closing act.
Miraculously, front woman Kathleen Hanna’s passion hasn’t wavered since the ’90s. In fact, she was as vocal as ever on Sunday, selecting her words with care.
“Be strategic,” Hanna said, before launching into a performance of “Feels Blind,” a song she wrote at 17 that still pulses with relevance. “I just want to encourage people to f—ing vote because it’s everyone’s rights on the line. We can’t have kids f—ing killing themselves in Texas.”
Hanna was just as generous with her music as she was with her messaging, shrieking her way through the encore (“Double Dare Ya” and “Rebel Girl”) with renewed resilience.
“We’re Bikini Kill, and we want revolution, girl-style, NOW!”