Sleater-Kinney Pick Up Right Where They Left Off
Photos by Jack Gorman
Sleater-Kinney Warehouse Live April 18, 2015
"Houston, it has been a long time," Carrie Brownstein painfully reminded the long-suffering devotees of one of the last decade's most influential bands, and tucking away the temporary trauma that was the memory of Sleater-Kinney's 2003 visit to the Woodlands Pavilion as Pearl Jam's openers became easy. As Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss also took their respective places, the memory of their absence was completely extinguished by performing songs from their extensive past catalog and their astonishing new album, No Cities to Love.
Like their timeless collection of songs, the packed Ballroom's diversity of race, gender and age was equally represented. Thirtysomething men sported Dwarves T-shirts, while middle-aged silver foxes clutched vinyl Sleater-Kinney albums. Teenage girls and college-age women shared the same admiration for a band that has pioneered socially conscious music for a gender that once was grossly underrepresented. Saturday night was a celebration uniting the Sleater-Kinney faithful with those who simply enjoy a show that rocks.
Tucker and company have come a long way indeed from the group that played Austin's Electric Lounge in support of 1997's now-classic album Dig Me Out. In fact, the back then disaffected audience appeared unimpressed with the band; "What's the big deal?" was one question overheard in the crowd. Moreover, drunken patrons and halfwits yelled, "You're hot!" at Tucker while the band blistered the rowdy audience with one emotionally intense track after another. When Brownstein remarked on how swampy Houston felt Saturday, it nevertheless failed to compare to that poorly ventilated sauna/vomitorium.
Fast-forward five albums, various side projects, a hiatus, maternal bliss, and a hit sketch-comedy TV series later, Sleater-Kinney sounded seasoned yet renewed as opening salvo "Price Tag," from No Cities, set the tone for the evening. Fierce, strained and furious, the song's extended metaphor for economic disillusionment was echoed by the sparse guitar riffs and punk-rock backbeat. The post-punk rhythms of "Fangless" showcased the brilliantly strained and tense exchange between Tucker and Brownstein, a formula that has provided the framework for many of the band's emotive compositions. This time the difference is in the band's tighter, more sophisticated arrangements.
"Start Together" came as a welcomed surprise, while "What's Mine Is Yours," from 2005's The Woods, spotlighted the city's Solid Gold dancers and subdued head-bobbers. The title track, and paramount song from the new album, further illustrated how Sleater-Kinney's shared duties comprise the band's strongest suit.
What hasn't withered is Tucker's high-pitched yawp. Although more controlled, she unleashed it in a timely manner, permitting it to float and curl between her razor-sharp riffs. Whereas during "Jumpers" and Dig Me Out's "Little Babies," Tucker dialed it down to compliment the arrangements, revealing a power equal to her shouts and shrieks.
It was all business for Sleater-Kinney; the few pauses between songs seemed calculated. "New Wave" was dedicated to the lovable loser and notoriously sexually curious Tina Belcher from Fox's animated show, Bob's Burgers. Wasting time to charm the crowd has rarely been a part of the band's act, but they did take time to recognize Planned Parenthood, who had representatives both outside and inside the Ballroom collecting signatures in opposition to the Draconian measure to eliminate cancer screenings for low-income women. Unanimity emerged from the crowd, who erupted with collective applause and chants of "Fuck the Republicans!"
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The brief pauses neither disrupted the mood nor Sleater-Kinney's onslaught of sound. However, finishing the main set with the beloved "Jumpers" exposed the band's touring fatigue. Other than "Words and Guitars," Sleater-Kinney's energy considerably waned between "Little Babies" and "Jumpers." On the other hand, it is difficult to fault a group that hasn't toured in almost eight years. In addition to the long layoff, the band not only performed in Austin, but also taped a segment for Austin City Limits. Regardless of their fatigue, the quality of their performance never faded.
"They haven't played 'One More Hour yet," lamented one young, worried fan, but the encore raised little cause for concern. Firing "Gimme Love" with a bullet, the band recovered, quickly acquiring its second wind. Not allowing the audience to come up for air, "Dig Me Out" brought the house down with the front section pogoing in time with Janet Weiss's incessant pounding. After "Modern Girl" came and went, I witnessed the concerned fan shaking her head. Her worry assuaged, the night ended with the one of rock's greatest breakup songs, "One More Hour." She, and the rest of crowd, were delighted by this fact, many fans screaming every single word with wild abandon.
Regardless of whether or not Sleater-Kinney ever returns to Houston, one thing is for certain: our city's passion for indie-rock's prodigal daughters did not disappoint. Here's to Sleater-Kinney welcomed second act and a speedy return to our great city.
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