Sleater-Kinney Debut New Songs In D.C.

New songs like 'By The Time You're 25' indicate that group's next album will be the bomb.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The 500 fans packed into the Black Club on Wednesday night bore witness to a stunning performance by Sleater-Kinney, in which the post-punk trio unveiled a number of striking new songs that are expected to appear on the band's as-yet-unrecorded fourth album

If the restless rave-up "By The Time You're 25" is to serve as

a guidepost, the upcoming disc will unleash new declarations of

independence for the Olympia, Wash., trio.

"I can't believe the life you chose for me," belted singer and guitarist

Corin Tucker, eyes closed beneath her red-dyed bob. "I am speechless at

the life you want for me."

The new songs only further confirmed that Sleater-Kinney are one of the most important bands making music today. Since

forming in 1994, the amazingly dynamic punk outfit has released three

critically acclaimed albums, each one refining and advancing the trademark

guitar and vocal interplay of Tucker and co-singer/guitarist Carrie

Brownstein.

Granted, I went to the Black Cat with my opinion already firmly nestled in

mind. But by the time the band hit the chorus to "Heart Factory" -- a punk

refrain whose words I can barely decipher, but whose hunger for meaningful

relations is so plain as to be almost tangible -- they had re-asserted

their irrefutable case for eminence right before my eyes.

Although Brownstein revealed that the band hadn't played together in four

months, Sleater-Kinney showed no signs of rust setting into their gears on this first

night of their nine-date mini-tour.

As she's done since joining S-K in 1996, drummer Janet Weiss punched the

band's sound forward, tearing their musical muscles so that they grew back

even stronger on subsequent songs.

Tucker -- dressed rock-grrrl-style

in a printed mini-dress and red sneakers -- delivered alternately

heart-piercing and adrenaline-charged vocals, eyes clenched shut, rolled

back or beaming straight ahead. Meanwhile, Brownstein tilted herself back

at hips and neck, laying into her Gibson SG guitar with a confidence that

testified to the power she'd unleash only when she decided that she was good and

ready.

While their hour-long, 17-song set concentrated on songs from last year's

Dig Me Out and 1996's Call The Doctor, Sleater-Kinney also

unveiled several of the songs they're expected to record when they head

into the studio next month with producer John Goodmanson. "By The Time

You're 25" opened with an almost Chuck Berry-ish riff from Brownstein, as

Tucker launched into her proclamation of discontent.

On first listen, four other new songs seemed to strike less viscerally than

older tracks such as "Call The Doctor" or "Words and Guitar." It's easy to

imagine these slower songs lingering, attaching themselves to the

listener's head until they're given the attention they demand. One number

ended on an almost military cadence. Another apparently tackled the

electronic age, mentioning "numbers" and "fax machines," along with the

lines: "Answer me with computations/ Answer me with industry."

Elsewhere, the band simply played to its strengths, which was more than

enough to enthrall the sold-out crowd of 500. During moments such as the

chorus to "One More Hour" or the bridge to "Words and Guitar" (which uses a

subtle percussive pause where you'd expect to find the beat to add tension and dynamics), the

black-clad Weiss proved that she can match not only the emotive power of Tucker

and Brownstein, but also their sonic textural intricacies.

On "Turn It On," one of the most sensual punk songs ever written,

Brownstein pogoed about the stage, guitar aimed at the ceiling with

unconscious conviction, in the process claiming the pose once owned by rockers

such as Pete Townshend and Bruce Springsteen for both herself and S-K's devoted fans.

Of course, Sleater-Kinney aren't the only band charting new courses in rock

'n' roll. Bands such as Prodigy come to mind as musicians who are

propelling themselves from the cliff. Still, The Prodigy's electronic

experiments feel like a leap into the cold abyss. By contrast,

Sleater-Kinney reach into the warmest, most natural depths of the heart.

The journey is no less scary, but it is ultimately more liberating for the

soul. The chorus to "Heart Factory," for example, is absolutely

chain-shattering, in the vein of the early Sun singles and "Like A Rolling

Stone."

And that, to these ears and this spirit, is what makes bands matter.