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