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Russian punk band brings a riot of Pride for pre-parade concert

Pussy Riot and other artists at the St. Pete Pride concert Friday were inspired by fury over the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling.
Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot performs during St. Pete Pride's concert on Friday.
Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot performs during St. Pete Pride's concert on Friday. [ LAUREN WITTE | Times ]
Published Jun. 25|Updated Jun. 25

As news of Roe v. Wade getting overturned rumbled through the nation earlier in the day, artists prepared to perform for St. Pete Pride on Friday, including Russian punk band Pussy Riot and feminist singer MuMu, who said she had spent the morning crying over the news.

Bette Midler had already tweeted “Get ready, gays. You’re next.”

The cobalt-blue-haired MuMu, whose real name is Madeline Rhodes, paused during her set at Spa Beach Park next to the St. Pete Pier on Friday and sighed. “Abortions have been around since the beginning of time,” she said.

“The decision that was made today does not stop abortions from happening. It stops them from being safe,” she said. “There are people out there who are going to suffer. They are going to die.”

MuMu performs during St. Pete Pride's concert on Friday. The New York artist said, “The decision that was made today does not stop abortions from happening. It stops them from being safe."
MuMu performs during St. Pete Pride's concert on Friday. The New York artist said, “The decision that was made today does not stop abortions from happening. It stops them from being safe." [ LAUREN WITTE | Times ]

She then delivered the storytelling song “Wrapped Up,” about three women whose destinies were changed by pregnancy.

One of Florida’s typical afternoon thunderstorms soon tore across Tampa Bay, causing an hourlong delay and scratching some of the artists on the concert lineup before Pussy Riot took the stage in all its furious glory.

The artists, known for wearing brightly colored ski masks when performing, have said they were interested in performing in Florida after legislators passed a bill nicknamed “Don’t say gay” by those who opposed it. It forbids schools from teaching about sexuality to young children.

Pussy Riot is an artistic and political collective that counts over 100 members, of which the musicians are just a small part these days. Over the last 10 years, Pussy Riot has pushed for a more equal world by founding media companies, publishing books and staging protests.

The only original performer from the band to appear in St. Petersburg on Friday was lead musician Nadya Tolokonnikova, who has created a largely solo project for shows in the U.S. She was sentenced to two years in prison by Russian Authorities for hooliganism after the band performed a protest song in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012.

A masked dancer performs with Nadya Tolokonnikova as Pussy Riot during St. Pete Pride's concert on Friday.
A masked dancer performs with Nadya Tolokonnikova as Pussy Riot during St. Pete Pride's concert on Friday. [ LAUREN WITTE | Times ]

She was joined on stage Friday by two ski-masked dancers, one wielding a sword, who were dressed in knee socks and schoolgirl-ish skirts dancing and emoting as Tolokonnikova brought Russian pop-punk bravado to the stage. Huge screens showed images of torture with alternating clips of video game-like avatars committing violence. Over danceable beats played, the messages “Matriarchy Now” and “Vasectomies Prevent Abortion” flashed on a screen, along with a video of an eggplant severed in half by a sword.

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“I spent two years in a Russian prison fighting for reproductive rights,” Tolokonnikova said. “I can’t believe I woke up in a country that banned abortion rights.”

Tolokonnikova is among the Pussy Riot members who have been arrested repeatedly by Russian authorities in the past decade after criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin. They also have voiced support for feminism and LGBTQ+ rights and participated in the banned 2011 Gay Pride rally in Moscow.

She reminded the crowd of that work in a profanity-laced call for Putin’s death and peace in Ukraine.

Two weeks before performing at the St. Pete Pride event, Tolokonnikova led a Pussy Riot charge to hang a 45-foot “Matriarchy Now” banner in the Texas State Capitol to support abortion rights. She plans to auction the photo of the moment as an NFT with all proceeds going toward abortion rights.

The concert came a day before Saturday’s St. Pete Pride Parade, which has been one of the largest Pride events in the Southeast but has been on hiatus since 2019 because of the pandemic.

Todrick Hall performs during the St. Pete Pride concert on Friday.
Todrick Hall performs during the St. Pete Pride concert on Friday. [ LAUREN WITTE | Times ]

Singer Todrick Hall, the “American Idol” and “Masked Singer” alum, finished out the night in old-school Pride style with in a polished show featuring six dancers and several costume changes. He thanked the crowd for supporting “a gay black boy from Texas” as he found his signature style and voice.

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