BABES IN TOYLAND: MINNEAPOLISM (2001)
1) Bruise Violet; 2) Swamp Pussy; 3) Vomit Heart; 4) Oh Yeah!; 5) Handsome And Gretel; 6) Won't Tell; 7) Drivin'; 8) Ripe; 9) Dust Cake Boy; 10) Ariel; 11) Bluebell; 12) He's My Thing; 13) Middle Man; 14) Memory; 15) Spun; 16) Spit To See The Shine; 17) Sweet '69.
This is not one of the many archive live releases from the vaults of the Toyland, but actually a contemporary memento of the Babes' last ever public appearance, after a few years of disintegrating, reconfiguring, patching up, and breaking down again, the Babes finally played their last show, with Bjelland, Barbero, and new bass player Jessie Farmer (who had actually replaced Maureen Herman in 1997). Details are obscure: reprinted sources claim that the show took place on November 21, 2001, yet at the same time the release date for the album is usually given as May 2001, so either we have some time travel involved here or some anonymous son of a bitch is falsifying history. Not that this particular history is of any tremendous importance, but accuracy is important even when dealing with a band as chaotic as the Babes.
Anyway, even though Minneapolism is primarily a historical document, it could have plenty of potential to become a great live record and, come to think of it, a much better farewell than the stupefied Nemesisters. Alas, nobody happened to care about sound quality — the whole thing honestly sounds like an audience-quality bootleg, albeit recorded from the first row, so all the drunken guffawing and hullabalooing mainly come through during the breaks between songs. Audiophiles will put this down ten seconds into the album and never pick it up again; lo-fi enthusiasts and Kat Bjelland suitors are the only ones likely enough to want to keep it.
Too bad, because the show was really good. The new bass girl handles all of Michelle Leon's and Maureen Herman's tough parts fairly well, and Bjelland, despite occasional faltering and not always being able to sustain the heat, still has enough spirit to whip herself up into the usual frenzy (something that you do not always expect out of «last concerts»). She seems a little out of breath on ʽHandsome And Gretelʼ (even letting the audience sing a couple of the "handsooooome!"s instead of herself), and misses a few of the «scream-shots» on ʽDust Cake Boyʼ — but apparently, there had always been slips like these whenever the Babes performed live, so there is no need to tie the occasional mistakes in with disillusionment, tiredness, or lack of enthusiasm.
The setlist, on the other hand, is near-perfect — all the classic numbers are here, with a nice fat selection from Spanking Machine, all the big «hits» from Fontanelle, and a slightly higher than necessary, but not fatal selection from Nemesisters (the weirdest inclusion is ʽDrivin'ʼ, on which Barbero is forced to chant her mantra of "where were you, I thought that I knew" for three minutes without any echo or reverb on her voice — not a pleasant experience, particularly to hear her get so totally out of breath towards the end). Main focus is on kicking ass — the «moody» numbers are reduced to a minimum and act as occasional breathers (ʽWon't Tellʼ, ʽMiddle Manʼ), helping Bjelland to regain some stamina for the next monster rocker. Altogether, I think the audiences got what they wanted — if only somebody had bothered setting up a proper recording console, us future listeners could get what we want, too, but no dice.
Consequently, do not hunt for this without extra necessity; ʽFontanelletteʼ on Painkillers is a sharper illustration of the girls' club power, although, of course, it is exclusively limited to promoting Fontanelle, and The Peel Sessions have far better sound quality, although they are not genuinely «live» (not before a genuinely vibrant club audience, that is) and are also represented by a somewhat questionable setlist. Which, in the end, leaves us still wishing and hoping for that one perfect Babes In Toyland live experience where it would all come together — the clarity of the mix, the enthusiasm, the song quality — and it looks like that particular wish just ain't coming true, unless the ladies give it one more try one of these days.