Punk provocateurs Pussy Riot exist less as a band than as an outlet for the collective's anti-Putin, anti-fascist and anti-Trump demonstrations, and their shows are more akin to a political rally than any type of concert. As such, there was a palpable feeling of electric expectation in the Doug Fir Lounge last night—the first of two an incredibly rare two-night stand for the group—one comparable to the vibe you'd encounter at a protest downtown where you're both surrounded by allies and unsure whether or not a cop in full riot gear will be cracking your skull open within the hour.

Backed by a laptop blasting electronic punk and adorned in their now-trademark balaclavas and day-glo clothing, Pussy Riot ringleader Nadya Tolokno and company tore through anthems like "Make America Great Again" and "Police State" while various anti-Putin and -Trump messages appeared on a screen at the back of the stage. In between the protest-centric sensory overloads of sound and color emanating from the stage, Tolokno spoke of past and recent attempts by the Kremlin to permanently silence those who oppose Putin, and touched on her own imprisonments, harassments and even public whippings she's endured for her political positions.

Of course, here in Portland, the message was received gleefully, with open arms and fists triumphantly raised in solidarity. Tracks like "Straight Outta Vagina" featured much of the Doug Fir audience singing along joyously with Tolokno as she bounded energetically around the stage, a smile barely visible underneath the sneer of her mask, as she reminded us that progress is worth struggling for. "If your vagina lands in prison/Then the world is gonna listen," she sang. Pussy Riot's first American tour stands as proof of that.

All photos by Thomas Teal,