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Pussy Riot declare their 'boner for politics' at sold-out Turf show

Pussy Riot at the Turf Club.

Pussy Riot at the Turf Club. Steve Cohen

"People here think we are going to have a music concert but we are not really musicians—we’re fake musicians—art is our weapon,” a ski-masked woman announced from the stage of the Turf Club Saturday night.

It’s been almost six years since Pussy Riot’s most infamous act, which landed its members in a Russian prison for two years. And if you were only vaguely paying attention, the impression you’d have gotten from the nightly news was one of a young punk rock band that took on Vladimir Putin and lost—and through losing, won, gaining international prominence and putting Putin’s policies under a pretty hefty magnifying glass.

But this isn’t entirely accurate, because with Pussy Riot vaguely paying attention just isn’t good enough. If you were only vaguely paying attention, you might have expected a Pussy Riot show to be more or less business as usual—some music, some drinking, all wrapped in a warm blanket of relatively safe political protest. What the crowd at the Turf Club got Saturday night was a call to look closer.

There were no opening acts, unless you count a speech by former Minneapolis City Council candidate and Black Lives Matter activist Samantha Pree-Stinson, followed by a live Q&A, hosted by Tommy Franklin of the Weapon of Choice podcast, with Pussy Riot member Nadezhda “Nadya” Andreyevna Tolokonnikova, the sole member of the infamous three touring the U.S. as Pussy Riot. And then, eventually some music, some spectacle, all against a video backdrop that led with the statement “A Coup's Happening, the Kremlin's Extremely Nervous” then bombarded the crowd with images for the rest of the night.

So here’s what you need to know about Pussy Riot: They’re not really a punk rock band. They’re not really a band at all. They’re not going to get on stage and play songs and maybe talk about the Man whenever someone needs to tune. They’re an anarchist political protest and art collective, using art and music as an opportunity to highlight issues in Russia and abroad. And there are more than just three of them.

If it makes you grumpy to hear about racism and sexism and LGTBQA and class issues all the time, be aware, people are literally talking about this shit EVERYWHERE. While just a few years ago the idea of young people running around in ski masks raising a stink might have seemed like a quaint emulation of times past to those barely paying attention, we’re living in different times now. As Tolokonnikova herself put it, while a few people struggling against a broken system may not have a huge effect, that same handful of people making a spectacle “can inspire because art can really amplify your voice.”

And clearly, at least Putin finds Pussy Riot scary as fuck.

During the Q&A, Tolokonnikova talked in depth about their brand of protest and the struggles that come along for the ride. (Recently two members of their collective were detained in Crimea by the FSB— the “new” KGB—where their phones and computers were broken and they were unable to reach anyone to let them know when they’d been released.) She talked about her time in prison ("History tells us incarceration makes political activists stronger”), her “boner for politics,” and how America has plenty of issues too. She was shocked, she said, visiting Rikers Island prison in New York, asking, “What does it mean, if you’re white you cannot go to prison?”

“But wait,” I can already hear you screaming, “what about the music?” Well, the fact is, it wasn’t particularly engaging. While the well-produced and notorious Pussy Riot “hits” like “Make America Great Again,” or “Straight Outta Vagina” caught my attention, much of the performance was just straightforward pop-hooked EDM that blurred together. (No set list for you!) Nadya and her unnamed DJ/compatriot jumped around and danced a lot. They waved flags. They made a ruckus. Some in the crowd loved it. Some in the crowd liked it because they like the idea of Pussy Riot. Some in the crowd had seen what they wanted to see and left early. (Some people talked through the entire goddamned night, which took me by surprise.) Bottom line, if you went to the Turf Club Saturday night looking for a straight-up punk show, you would have probably been let down.

But if you’re going to see Pussy Riot strictly for the music, you’re not paying attention.

Click here to see photos of Pussy Riot at the Turf

The crowd: A weird mix of multigenerational radicals, lefty-minded hipsters, and curious bystanders.

Notes on the openers: Knowing that voices like Samantha Pree-Stinson’s and outlets like Weapon of Choice exist here in the Twin Cities is in some ways more interesting than the broader message of a touring anarchist political performance act.

Random notebook dump: I wish I appreciated EDM as much as I appreciate Situationism.