Meghan Kreidler knew she needed to say something. It was her first time on stage since the pandemic, a racial justice uprising and a torrent of sexual abuse stories had devastated the Twin Cities music scene, and Kreidler had a swirl of urgent thoughts racing through her mind.
And so, in between playing no-holds-barred rock 'n' roll tunes with her band, Kiss the Tiger, she stepped up to the mic, gazed out at the socially distanced parking lot full of music-starved fans in St. Michael, Minn., and let 'er rip.
"I got very emotional," Kreidler said recently, reflecting on that day last July. "I talked about how I am half Korean, and I'm also half white. And if it's going to help for me to bridge the gap between two different sides of the conversation, then I'm happy to do that. I feel like that's part of my responsibility."
Most of the audience hung on her every word. But she noticed someone becoming agitated — "a dude in the front row, who was living his best life up until that moment." As soon as she uttered the words "white supremacy," he stood up, blurted out an expletive and stormed off.
After the show he confronted Kreidler at the merch table. "He was like, 'You know what? You're a really great band, you have really great music, but you don't need to bring politics into it.' He just went off," she said. "But it was a good learning experience for me, because that was the exact thing that I was scared about. And I actually felt more empowered after that."
As the Minnesota music scene emerges from a paralyzing and traumatic year, countless artists are asking the same questions as Kreidler: Where do we go from here? And what role can the frontwoman of a popular rock 'n' roll band play in helping a broken scene rebuild into something stronger and more inclusive?
While the community grows into its uncertain future, Kiss the Tiger has matured, as well. Since forming the band five years ago with her partner, Michael Anderson, Kreidler has emerged as one of Minneapolis' most commanding and magnetic live performers, and their five-piece group has honed a sound that channels the raucous, fearless energy of their '70s rock influences — Patti Smith, "Sticky Fingers"-era Stones, Iggy Pop — and combines it with a whole lot of heart.
Almost a full year has passed since the band opened for the Suburbs at that parking lot show in St. Michael, and gigs have been few and far between. Guitarist and co-songwriter Anderson has worked long shifts as a nurse and taken up a side hustle installing hardwood floors. Alex Sandberg (guitar), Paul DeLong (bass), Jay DeHut (drums) and Kreidler have learned to cook elaborate dinners, meditate and take time to explore nature.
But all the while, they were sitting on a nearly completed album. Now the excellent "Vicious Kid" is finally out, and the band is downright giddy to get back on stage.
Kiss the Tiger was one of the first acts to kick off the Hook and Ladder's "Under the Canopy" outdoor concert series last month. Just before their set, as Kreidler perched on the edge of a greenroom counter to apply a hot pink eye shadow that matched her stylish hot pink blazer and pants, she raved about all the friends she'd booked to join her band at Icehouse for a monthlong residency celebrating "Vicious Kid."
"The lineup is all women, and almost all women of color. It's very intentional," she said of the four-week series that began Thursday with singer-songwriter Mayda as their first guest.
After a few stretches, Kreidler bounded on stage and yelled, "It's so awesome to be back playing live music in front of PEOPLE!"
With the audience seated in socially distanced pods, it took a few songs for the band to fully relax. But by the time they got to their early single "Starting to See You," they'd fully warmed up and Kreidler had taken full ownership of the stage, slinking around, extending her hand to the crowd during slower ballads like "Vicious Kid's" centerpiece, "Grown Ass Woman," and doing full-on leg kicks, jumps and dramatic sprints during faster songs like the irresistible "Motel Room" and "Who Does Her Hair?"
Kreidler comes from a theater background, but none of her movements on stage seem predetermined. That's something she's had to work on.
"It's raw energy. It's vulnerability. It's messy. It's not about perfection," she said a few days later, sitting in her band's practice space. "And I'm a perfectionist. But I feel like it was always in me."
She looked up at a poster of Patti Smith that hangs over the door. "In interviews I've watched with Patti, she talks about the Doors and breaking on through to the other side. There's always more that you can push toward. I teeter back and forth between feeling very confident and really insecure. I think it's always about leaning into that insecurity and trying to push past it."
Given how natural she appears in concert, it may come as a surprise that Kiss the Tiger is Kreidler's first band. According to Hugo Klaers of the Suburbs, who was Kiss the Tiger's short-lived first drummer and performed with them at their first two shows in 2015, Kreidler's talent was evident from the start.
"The first time I saw her perform, I was blown away," Klaers said. "She's just kind of magnetic, you know? She reminded me of Pat Benatar."
Diane Miller, who works as the talent buyer at Icehouse and performs under the name D Mills, has also become an extended "nonmember/member" in addition to being a fan of the band. She has toured with them as a fill-in guitarist and contributed to several songs on "Vicious Kid."
"I like to describe them as just straight up rock 'n' roll," Miller said. "Their energy and intensity when they perform is unmatched. Their vibe is through the roof. It's like you can feel it pulsating. And Meghan is such an energetic frontwoman. She has a lot of charisma and really knows how to hype up a crowd."
Kreidler is still active in the theater scene and has earned acclaim in that medium — in 2017, she won Ivey Awards as both outstanding emerging artist and for her ensemble work in Mixed Blood Theatre's "Vietgone" — but she dreams of merging her two loves.
"As much as I love theater, and I've been able to work on projects and work with people that I adore, I've never felt more myself than when I've done the band," she said. "I love doing both, and they inform each other in really awesome ways."
She said Kiss the Tiger is working on a mythological rock 'n' roll musical called "Stone Baby" that she hopes will "bring rock 'n' roll to a theatrical space without turning into musical theater."
As Kiss the Tiger's popularity grows, she intends to keep using her platform to speak out about issues that are important to her, especially as a woman of color in the rock world. "I used to think that just my presence enough was a political statement, doing rock music on a stage," she said. "But sometimes you just have to explicitly name it for people to see it."
When Kreidler paused during her Hook and Ladder show to ask the audience what they were doing to make the music scene safer, her words were met with cheers and appreciative applause.
Oh, and the angry guy who made a scene last summer? He eventually cooled down, circled back to the merch table, and bought a Kiss the Tiger CD.
Andrea Swensson is an author, music journalist and podcast host in Minneapolis.
Kiss the Tiger
New album: "Vicious Kid," via kissthetiger.bandcamp.com.
Icehouse residency: Thursdays in June with guests Tabah (June 10), Tekk Nikk (June 17) and Thomasina Petrus (June 24). 6:30 p.m., 2528 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., $20-$25, icehousempls.com.