The punk-electronic three-piece Le Tigre never fail to baffle with the brazen ease with which they merge a feminist-left politics with consummate chic and childlike glee.
Kathleen Hanna (of Nineties Bikini Kill and riot-grrrl fame) and Johanna Fateman met at a Bikini Kill gig and went on to form the group about 10 years ago, enlisting JD Sampson (formally Le Tigre's projectionist) in 1999. Le Tigre's third album, This Island, was released last October. Having supported the Scissor Sisters at the Royal Albert Hall for this release, and playing at the Barfly on a revived Camden Crawl last week, tonight they bust into the Forum to headline.
Stylistically, they have now elaborated themselves as the rebellious, queer children of a marriage between Devo, Blondie and the Beastie Boys. They brandish power-pop melodies in Sixties shout style, alternating punk screech and blues wail. Call and answer with group choruses echo the grass-roots action that inspires them, while they rest upon a contagious formula of old-school drumbeats and new-wave keyboards. All this with synchronised dancing and cartoonish, mostly "home-made" film clips.
This Island dishes out large amounts of tasteful Eighties cheese: modulations of Duran Duran meet speed metal riffs; Madonna-style fresh talk is teamed with lounge glockenspiel. The sound is busier, with sophisticated and seamless beats and synths, while Hanna surrenders the mic in equal measure to her colleagues. As a result, Sampson was singing enough to eclipse her Michael Jackson-style dance moves. Her centrepiece, "Viz", refers to recent experiences of being courted by the press for her drag-king identity.
Musically, Le Tigre lose impact in complicating their startling punk rawness. Hanna's soulful rock voice and playful Fifties style is the unique spice to this electronic outfit: what they gain in diversity, they lose in pure oomph. But the crowd isn't nostalgic - they cheer on new material as much as the recent classics.
As with previous albums, the preacher dancing in their hearts, is, for the most part, overtaken by the levelling urge to shake one's ass at the gig itself. (I am sure they would argue that dancing is as political a statement as any of their lyrics.) Some recent DIY electro girl outfits that they have inspired tend to come over all karaoke behind a thin veneer of "cool" accoutrements. However, while in some ways Le Tigre are just about dancing, they also continue to present a savvy challenge to a boy-rock-dominated mainstream. They also throw some free-form dance kicks at the Bush administration in "New Kicks" and the speed punk anthem "Seconds". The video, the costumes, the moves are as cute and as cutting as their first outings.
It was something of a revolution that they got London kids to dance with abandon to something more than a DJ set. But it's true that they are playing to the converted. Pop dancing to politics - no mean feat.
Oran Mor, Glasgow, tonight; Fleece, Bristol, Sunday; Concorde 2, Brighton, Monday