The venue was dark when the band entered from stage right. The energy at Terminal 5 was rising, and I could feel it seeping through the floorboards of the second tier where MDP and I were standing. One spectator commented that more than 1,000 people must have been present for the second night of a sold-out two-night appearance by the band that vanished into thin air eight years ago.
Sleater-Kinney is easily one of my favorite bands. Two guitars and a drum set comprise this trio, which could be one of the more unique aspects of the band if they weren’t also so exceptional in so many other ways. I once read that they tune the lower E of their guitars to C sharp, which, as a burgeoning guitar player, simply blows my mind. Don’t the chords sound different? I wondered, trying to comprehend how it must be writing with such a different sound.
Their feminist roots in the riot grrrl movement of the ’90s runs through their tunes, but their lyrics are much more sophisticated and thinkworthy than your run-of-the-mill Bikini Kill. And, of course, this is not an insult to BK as much as it’s a compliment to SK.
Last night, on February 27, the band took the stage and played through their catalog, album by album, speeding up certain songs and adding flourishes here and there in time-honored Sleater-Kinney standards, such as “Words + Guitar” and “One Beat,” a song that contains some of my favorite lyrics EVER:
Should I come outside and run your cars?
Should I run your rockets to the stars?
Could you invent a world for me?
I need to hear a symphony
If I’m to run the future,
You’ve got to let the old world go, oh oh
More known for her appearances on Portlandia these days than for her guitar playing, Carrie Brownstein danced across the stage, kicking her long, lanky legs up toward the ceiling as she ripped through lines that only expert guitarists could dream of playing. Corin Tucker belted out number after number with her unique voice, penetrating even the most insulating ear plugs worn by novice SK attendees. And Janet Weiss, on the drums, back up vocals and harmonica, kept the beat plugging along with adroit playing.
The crowd was filled with three types of people, as far as I could tell: the long-suffering Sleater-Kinney fans who have been behind them since their noteworthy album Call the Doctor dropped (I’m in this group); the newbies who know No Cities to Love, their new record, with a sound that demonstrates the nearly 10 years of music that’s occurred since the band last wrote together; and the people who like Portlandia.
Although she’s the most famous band member today, Carrie didn’t ham it up by making funny remarks here and there. She kept it low-key and largely allowed Corin to speak to and rev up the crowd.
Their experience as seasoned musicians shone through on just about every song. Carrie’s masterful guitar lines exploded on songs like “Youth Decay,” which was way more uptempo than the album rendition, and “Dig Me Out” with its clarion call of punk-infused indie rock. Corin’s voice reverberated to the highest tiers of the massive venue, and sounded gorgeous on classic tracks like “Good Things,” a fan favorite.
I was reminded of the brilliance of their songwriting when Carrie began singing “Entertain” off their 2006 album The Woods:
So you wanna be en-en-tertained?
Please look away, don’t look away
We’re not here ’cause we want to entertain
Go away, don’t go away
In this song, Sleater-Kinney cuts right through to the heart of the matter when it comes to fame–could it be about their struggle with becoming a renowned rock band? Or even Carrie’s place on Rolling Stone’s list of “most underrated guitarists of all time”? Could be both these things, but they’re also talking more generally about society on a whole. That’s what I mean about Sleater-Kinney’s sophisticated lyrics–they’re incisive, bold, and brilliant. And don’t even get me started on the aural aesthetic of this song: Carrie’s muted, round articulation of the lyrics paired with Corin’s fiery vocals, and a militant drumbeat banging in the background plus the intricate guitar lines–it’s all spectacular!
The show was one of the best I’ve been to in a long time, but the band only played an hour-long set, which surprised me. I guess the ladies of Sleater-Kinney know how to end on a high note, leaving their fans from all walks of life “always wanting more,” as they sing in “I Wanna Be Yr Joey Ramone.”
So, you thought I only wrote about Taylor Swift and food on this blog. And I understand why you’d get that impression, given the header and the name. But, as stated in Taylor Ham’s tagline, this blog is about all kinds of music.
Below is a taste of what happened at the show. Enjoy!