Babes in Toyland: Mean Fiddler, London

AS YET ANOTHER lame-brain shuffles nervously before taking the plunge, the anti-stage-diving lobby have a point for once. In the context of Babes In Toyland’s synapse-snapping emotional storm, such de rigueur mosh-pit frivolity just seems out of place.

And also a trifle unnecessary. C’mon, who the hell wants to look at some spotty geek jumping on people’s heads when they could be submitting their minds, bodies and whatever else they happen to have along to the Babes’ beautiful mayhem?

Last spotted chasing Sonic Youth’s tails round Europe, the Minneapolis threesome return bearing a freshly inked deal with Warners and an unmistakably tougher set of musical veins. The allure of Kat Bjelland’s Barbie-gone-wrong shriek scenes remains, but now bolstered by an altogether more cohesive power base. In short, they ROCK hard.

Tonight’s set is liberally peppered with selections from the just-released ‘To Mother’ — the ideal Christmas gift, kids! — and these new songs tend to have more lasting currency than the bulk of their predecessors. That said, the Babes still open with their groovesome grunge anthem of yore, ‘Swamp Pussy’, invoking the spectre of Manson with its “cease to exist” refrain, then lurch up the intensity scale for ‘Catatonic’. This has Kat burbling a twisted nursery rhyme — “One two three four five, glad you ‘re not alive/Six seven eight nine ten. back to hell again” — before the blond Babe apparently attempts to wrench out her vocal chords and sling them on to the Fiddler’s upstairs bar.

Demurely decked out in purple velvet, Kat is still the slightly weird kid from poetry class dreaming up nasty things to do to the teacher, preferably involving a pencil sharpener. In fact — and despite all the cod theories about Girls In Rock that dog this band — flailing at her Rickenbacker, eyes all a-swivel, Bjelland’s dangerously uncontrived abandon resembles no one as much as Nirvana’s Kurdt Kobain, softly spoken rock beasts both.

As with Nirvana, the singer’s alarming fervour is offset by a larger-than-life member of the rhythm section — in the Babes’ case, drummer Lori Barbero. A mighty woman, her face seems almost permanently creased into a big grin of joy at the whole affair. Her latest songwriting contribution, ‘Primus’, wanders agreeably along Michelle Leon’s four-string route, before crunching its protagonist on some particularly unforgiving guitar.

True to the power-trio tradition, Babes In Toyland work because they make three seem enough, the perfect format for great rock’n’roll. Which, when it comes down to the wire, is all they are: not a bunch of bad-assed chicks from the Midwest who can kick their foxcore with the best of the guys – that’s last year’s news, Mr Daily Star photographer, so quit standing on my toe – but simply one hell of a great rock band playing some serious wild shit.

As she let rip ‘Dust Cake Boy”s climactic scream, a thin smear of saliva oozes down Kat’s chin. Human after all — what a relief.

© Keith CameronNew Musical Express, 22 June 1991

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