Sleater-Kinney / Lizzo. Ogden Theatre. 02.12.15
Seeing the name Sleater Kinney on the marquee at the Ogden Theatre last night was quite a sight, but it didn’t stir nostalgic emotions for everyone on Colfax. As the line stretched out in front of the theater, past Angelo’s Records to the other side of Ogden St., many of Colfax’s finest took the time to inquire. “Man, I’m getting old,” claimed a man who graduated high school the same year I did, “I don’t know who Sleater-Kinney is, but I remember standing in line for Limp Bizkit.” The condescending laughs from the crowd drove him away, but not before someone informed him that Sleater-Kinney and Limp Bizkit might come from different worlds, but they actually come from the same generation. The guy wasn’t too old to know who Sleater-Kinney was, he just had bad taste in music. When another passerby asked what kind of band it was, a couple girls in front of us said “punk”. “Like Ministry? Like Sex Pistols?” “No, no, not like them” was the reply. “What are you in line for?” the next guy asked. “Sleater-Kinney” replied the collective crowd. “Is he any good?” (insert laughing and head shaking here) “Yes, HE is really good.” This went on for the duration of our stay on Colfax – pedestrian after pedestrian providing entertainment and reminding us that although Sleater-Kinney were one of the most influential rock bands of the nineties and early aughts, they are not exactly a household name.
Before I get too comfortable up on my high horse, I should probably explain that I was not a card carrying member of the riot grrrl movement. I wasn’t there, in Olympia, like my cousins were in ’97. I never saw Tucker and Brownstein as a young, punk rock, feminist couple who were performing chaotic, lo-fi shows at the Capitol Theatre. But I knew who they were. I thought everyone did. I was a carefree kid living in San Diego in the late 90’s. Southern California was a world away from what was happening in the Pacific Northwest, but I knew it was happening. My fist pumping revolution came in the form of Good Riddance and Propagandhi, and in all reality I was probably slam dancing to fart jokes more than I was feminist ideals, but Sleater-Kinney albums were still on that front shelf at Lou’s Records. It wasn’t until One Beat, and even more so The Woods, that I really came around to the band though. The way they started to channel their punk rock beginnings into something more sophisticated – like Bikini Kill meets Sonic Youth – really made me wake up to what I had been missing. I became a huge fan because of those two albums. As it turns out, I was just in time for them to go on an indefinite hiatus…hence my excitement to see them for the first time last night.
Not only are Sleater-Kinney back after a decade away, they are back with an incredible new album. No Cities To Love is a testament to the staying power of rock music. It’s not the lo-fi punk of their early years, and it’s not as progressive as their farewell album, but it’s almost perfect in every way. It’s the straight-up, hard hitting rock album that I didn’t know I needed. And the live version of the band is exactly the same. Taking the stage after an inspired set from the Minneapolis rapper Lizzo (think Busta Rhymes and Nicki Minaj having a baby and giving her to Salt N Pepa to raise), the girls opened the show with the opening track from the new album. Janet Weiss was a machine, perched up high with her kit and sticks as the false granite backdrop fluttered with the force of her kick drum. Corin Tucker sounded great as she took the lead from stage left. She stayed pretty stationary for most of the show, using her distinct vocals and Les Paul guitar to whip the crowd into a riot. Carrie Brownstein’s arsenal also included her unique vocal style, and a white Fender Telecaster, but she was also the most animated member of the band. For someone who is inexplicably more famous for writing and starring in a television show than she is for being a rock star, she had no problem proving she can be both. Part sashay, part sideways moonwalk – her unique method of traveling from one side of the stage to the other, along with the various directions she threw her guitar, made her the one to watch. Katie Harkin joined the girls on stage as a multi-instrumentalist, filling in on keys and various other sounds to augment the trio. She added a depth to the live sound that was much appreciated, but she also kept to the side of the stage, as to not distract from the Sleater-Kinney everyone came to see.
The setlist was heavy on No Cities to Love, covering almost every song from their reunion album, but it also spanned their entire career. I wouldn’t be exaggerating by saying every track off the new album was a highlight, but I was also thrilled with the inclusion of four tracks from The Woods, including one of my favorite Sleater-Kinney songs, “Modern Girl”. Old school stand-outs included “Oh!”, “Start Together”, “One Beat”, “Little Babies” and “All Hands on the Bad One”. The main set lasted just over an hour and had very little commentary. “Thank you Denver” was said a few times, and a choked-up Carrie dedicate “Bury Your Friends” to David Carr, but other than that, they just came out and did their job. Nothing about the performance said ‘reunion’. If anything, they seemed like a highly polished, mature rock band who has been doing what they do for many years. It’s insane to think it was only their fourth show in the past decade.
The only political moment of the evening (outside the songs) came during the encore. Corin spoke about Planned Parenthood (who had a presence in the back of the venue). “They stand up for women and choice…and frankly I’m tired of asking at this point…give me respect, equality, choice and love…” The short speech led right into “Gimmie Love”, which gave way to the title track from Call the Doctor. The night ended with “Dig Me Out” and the crowd went ballistic. Then the band walked off stage like nothing had happened.
The girls in Sleater-Kinney have grown up. They aren’t who they were before. But they are still one of the best rock bands in America. So it’s sad that the response I received on social media was mostly “who is Sleater-Kinney?” I just figured that the band was a household name among those born between 1970 and 1990. I was wrong. One of my friends literally said “that girl from Portlandia is in a band?” It is what it is though. Sleater-Kinney are back, and even those who weren’t with them the first time around should be giving them a chance this time. An understanding of the past isn’t even necessary, because they are here now…and they are as good and relevant as they have ever been.
No Cities to Love
What’s Mine Is Yours
A New Wave
Words and Guitar
Bury Our Friends
All Hands on the Bad One
Call the Doctor
One More Hour
Dig Me Out