Bikini Kill headline Mosswood Meltdown in Oakland on Sunday, July 3, 2022. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Baby punks with colorful mullets, gray-haired scene veterans and hundreds of others in between descended on Oakland’s Mosswood Park on July 2 and 3 for Mosswood Meltdown. The foggy holiday weekend marked the rock festival’s reemergence after the pandemic—and after scandal shook the community surrounding the event, formerly known as Burger Boogaloo.
In 2020, two prominent musicians and an anonymous Instagram account accused various Burger Records musicians of multiple forms of sexual abuse, including grooming teenage fans. Burger Boogaloo changed its name to Mosswood Meltdown, and festival organizers cut ties with the Southern California label, which they said never profited from the event. Host John Waters stuck by festival organizers Marc Ribak and Amy Carver of Total Trash Productions, as did many bands.
Along with rebranding, Mosswood Meltdown curated a lineup prominently featuring women and LGBTQ+ bands, including riot grrrl originators Bikini Kill, rock icon Kim Gordon, ’90s punks Pansy Division and teen prodigies The Linda Lindas. While at times it felt like the Burger Records scandal loomed over the celebration (“Congrats on the hard pivot,” singer Shannon Shaw said from the stage on Saturday), the new approach brought out a crowd with many women, queer and trans people, who moshed in the front of the stages, shared cigarettes with friends, bought vinyl and generally had a blast.
Here’s how it all went down.—Nastia Voynovskaya
Shannon Shaw plays country-punk with heart
Shannon and the Clams frontwoman Shannon Shaw had the audience hanging on her every word, singing even more powerfully and soulfully live than on her solo album, Shannon in Nashville. On Saturday, Shaw went maximalist. Joining her on stage was a seven-piece band: two guitarists (acoustic and electric), an electric violinist, a synth player doubling as a trumpeter, auxiliary percussion, a drummer and Shaw herself on bass, plus three backup singers called the Donettes who wore messy beehives and pink sequins. The instrumental excellence on stage made Shaw’s gritty mix of classic country, garage rock and doo-wop even more invigorating as she sang about broken love and freedom.
The set also attested to Shaw’s kind heart: about halfway through the set, fans called for medical attention for someone in the crowd. Shaw asked for a medic from the mic, waited until someone was on the way before playing her next song, and then dedicated it to the person who needed help.—N.V.
Kim Gordon gets experimental
Fans packed the stage at sunset on Saturday for an artist who’s had a profound influence on alternative rock for decades: Kim Gordon, the Sonic Youth co-founder who remains a cultural influence on music, visual art and fashion. A hypnotic, electronic drone was Gordon’s cue, and she took the stage with a three-piece band of young musicians with a rambunctious stage presence and big, distorted punk and shoegaze sound.
While playing guitar, Gordon approached her effect pedals like a scientist, tinkering with knobs to get the precise level of distortion to deploy at the perfect moment. She switched instruments multiple times, and even John Waters—who praised her heartily in his intro as the “Joan Didion of indie rock”—at one point stepped in as an honorary roadie, handing her a new guitar from the side of the stage.
Gordon got weird: she slapped her guitars and even rubbed one on the inflatable set decorations while climbing the speakers; her bandmate at one point played slide guitar using a screwdriver. Throughout the set, they fine-tuned and built upon the sound through improvisation. In her signature deadpan delivery, Gordon sang her new solo material, which commented on modern feminism and capitalism and incorporated elements of spoken word.
Maybe the packed crowd was too hypnotized to cheer loudly, but they were clearly enthralled. At one point, Gordon commented that it was quiet in the audience. But the energy shifted when someone jumped off the barricade to crowd surf—then another, then another. The singer and her band began to rock even harder. And, coincidentally, since it’s Fourth of July weekend in Oakland, fireworks went off behind Gordon just as she sang one of her last songs, bringing the night to a perfect close.—N.V.
Podium starts a mosh pit
For a large number of people attending the Meltdown on Sunday, it was hard to focus on much beyond the prospect of finally seeing Bikini Kill—a band that hasn’t played the Bay Area since 1995. For those who arrived early, however, there were ample rewards. First and foremost, Podium.
The Spanish quartet jolted the festival awake at 2pm with driving punk rock that announced itself with thunderous guitars. They piqued the crowd’s interest with kinetic aggression and an aerobic on-stage presence, then broke down the audience’s early-afternoon reservations with an on-field dance party. Dazzling vocalist África Mansaray gave up on the stage and submerged herself in the pit for three tracks straight, prompting toothy smiles and appreciative moshing from the early birds in attendance. Mansaray’s energy and palpable joy infected everyone within 50 feet and the band left triumphant—and, frankly, almost impossible to follow.—Rae Alexandra
Pansy Division makes a political statement
Pansy Division managed to kick up an impressive (and literal) dust storm later in the afternoon, with a series of queer anthems that ran the gamut between dirty love songs and political indignance. Bassist/vocalist Chris Freeman had the best time sprinting between the two, one moment raising smiles with “Dick of Death” and “James Bondage,” and the next donning Supreme Court robes to flip off photos of homophobic politicians, backed by the decievingly dulcet tones of “Blame the Bible.” Despite a warm-hearted, feel-good set, the San Francisco quartet was clear about its motivations, even after 30 years in the game. “Our existence is a political act,” vocalist/guitarist Jon Ginoli noted, and it was impossible not to feel a rush of gratitude for the band’s years of service.—R.A.
The Linda Lindas showcase their evolution
It’s only fitting that The Linda Lindas were left with the task of warming up the crowd before the headliners arrived—the teen band first got national attention at Bikini Kill’s first reunion shows in L.A. in 2019. But oh, what a difference three years makes. Where the band’s 2019 opening set was made up of covers and performed in an adorably unassuming manner, the Linda Lindas on stage at Mosswood were an altogether fiercer beast.
This time, the quartet came armed with newfound confidence, an impressive debut album (Growing Up) and one rage-fuelled viral song. (“Racist Sexist Boy” is an altogether angrier prospect live and in person.) And these young women performed like consummate professionals despite still being aged between 11 and 17. Sunday evening, “Talking to Myself” legitimately sounded like the Ramones and Blondie combined forces and birthed four gifted children. If it wasn’t for the band’s unsullied between-song banter (“Does anyone have any pets?”, “Is it anyone’s first show?”) you’d never know that the oldest member of the Linda Lindas wasn’t even born until seven years after Bikini Kill broke up the first time.—R.A.
Bikini Kill channel their rage
And then they finally arrived. Bikini Kill is not a band people have ever held casual views about. And after COVID-related delays and a glaring lack of other Bay Area dates, the pressure was on for Bikini Kill to fulfill thousands of teenage wishes that have been lingering for decades. If I’m honest, my expectations weren’t as high as they once were. I attended one of the band’s 2019 reunion shows and, while it was certainly a bucket list item fulfilled, I left the Los Angeles Palladium feeling slightly robbed. The set I watched that night was cleaner, slower and more precise than the Bikini Kill I grew up with. It lacked spontaneity. It lacked—well—grit.
Bikini Kill’s Mosswood performance wiped all of that from memory. Sunday night’s headlining set was exactly as urgent and guttural and passionate and sarcastic as the 1990s Bikini Kill the world has been craving since they broke up. Perhaps the other dates the band did recently loosened them up. Or perhaps the rage of watching American women get robbed of their bodily autonomy a week and a half ago finally just tipped these fervent feminists over the edge and back into the vat of righteous anger they emerged from in the first place.
Frontwoman Kathleen Hanna noted that Sunday’s set was like “partying at the end of the world.” And perhaps that’s true. But if the world is indeed ending, I can think of no greater—or more inspiring—soundtrack than the one Bikini Kill left us with on Sunday night. The encore consisted of “Double Dare Ya” and “Rebel Girl”—a coupling that was undoubtedly not an accident.—R.A.
Care about what’s happening in Bay Area arts? Stay informed with one email every other week—right to your inbox.