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While the record exudes a new level of confidence, the group's live show has been a symphony in swagger since its first concerts in the early '90s. That's mostly due to the charismatic Wolfe, whose cheerleader choreography and interactive stage banter keep her audiences alert and enthralled ("What's the gossip?" she asks them at each tour stop). Midwest fans have not yet had an opportunity to witness this spectacle, since Bratmobile's shows have been almost exclusively confined to the coasts. However, Smith assures everyone that Wolfe hasn't calmed down. "Allison's never going to change," she says, "and the kids love it."
That's not to say that Bratmobile's sets are identical to the ones they played in riot grrrl's prime. As the new album indicates, all three members have enhanced their arsenal, and their renditions of relatively simple tunes, such as "Cool Schmool," indicate their improved mastery of their instruments. "We do these totally big rock endings, and we're all on time with each other," Smith says. "We know what to do now, by virtue of playing for a longer period of time, and it's smoother."
Smith learned her craft by playing along with her favorite records in her bedroom, but she didn't spend much of her hiatus writing songs alone. She teamed with Wolfe for the side project Cold Cold Hearts, a band that released one full-length album and embarked on two U.S. tours before calling it quits. She didn't start writing songs again until Bratmobile re-formed. "Because we're on two coasts, I have to write all the music when we're not together," she says. "When we are together, it's so intense -- we practice every single day for two months straight -- that when we're not together, I just don't do it so much. It's okay, because it's the style of music we play. It's punk rock, right?"
Working alone, Smith concocted a unique style that focuses on single notes instead of relying on chords. Her guitar lines are sparse without being thin, with each isolated sound leading listeners through the melodies like a musical version of Connect the Dots. Smith's guitar heroes include Beat Happening's Calvin Johnson, whose spare licks convinced her to pick up the instrument again after she felt overwhelmed by the lush guitar attack of Duran Duran's Andy Taylor.
Bratmobile's reunion means that a new generation of fans, many of them young women, is attempting to figure out Smith's intricate guitar lines, singing along loudly with Wolfe's cathartic words, and dancing in worry-free, all-female mosh pits. It's not a new phenomenon, but it's one that Bratmobile largely missed out on during its first incarnation. This summer's Ladyfest, held in Olympia, Washington, gave the group its first glimpse of what constitutes the riot grrrl movement in 2000. The event was Wolfe's brainchild, born out of nostalgia after the opening of the riot grrrl retrospective, although scores of volunteers did the actual planning and carried out the event. Smith reports lesbian pop-punk band the Butchies and female art-rock trio Sleater-Kinney played to a Backstreet Boys-style response, complete with screaming and crying. Bratmobile's set inspired similar hysteria, which -- considering that Smith got chills when her band merely was recognized in Washington, D.C., soon after its reunion -- was rather overwhelming.
"It was really moving," she says. "This might sound cheesy, but it was a really electrifying week. When we were doing the interviews for the riot grrrl retrospective, it was so inspiring just to be talking about those things again and thinking about how it used to be, and Allison wondered, 'Why can't we do this today?' There was all this 'riot grrrl is dead' talk, but Ladyfest really proved that it's still alive and there's still interest in it. I can be really cheesy about it sometimes, but I'm really glad we're back together. There's no one I'd rather be in a band with."