SEATTLE Sleater-Kinney showcased their punk-rock roots, savvy lyrics and infectious melodies Thursday, the first show of a two-night stand at the Showbox celebrating the release of All Hands on the Bad One, their fifth album.
Kicking off the evening with the new LP's "Ballad of a Ladyman" (RealAudio excerpt), singer/guitarist Corin Tucker professed, "I could be demure like girls who are soft for boys who are fearful of getting an earful/ But I gotta rock!"
With that call to action, the band jumped into the ripping "Ironclad," from All Hands (May 2). Sleater-Kinney played almost every song off the new album, which highlights their playful side, on songs like "You're No Rock 'n Roll Fun" and "All Hands on the Bad One" (RealAudio excerpt), and their socio-political side, on tracks such as "#1 Must Have" and "Male Model."
Drummer Janet Weiss' backing vocals gave many of the new songs an even more sophisticated texture than the group's past work. Weiss' frenetic drumming on "The Professional" propelled the band at a fierce pace that had guitarist/singer Carrie Brownstein spinning and jumping in a frenzy.
On the punchy, politically charged "#1 Must Have," Tucker sang, "Bearer of the flag from the beginning/ Now who would have believed this riot grrrl's a cynic," addressing the commercial co-opting of the riot grrrl ethic and feminism in general. Ultimately, however, the song is about empowerment, as Tucker urged, "Culture is what we make it/ Yes it is/ Now is the time/ To invent."
During the catchy, riffy "Male Model," which stabs at the misogyny in mainstream rock, Tucker, in her chilling vibrato, challenged the audience: "Take the stage!"
Sleater-Kinney won several new fans during the evening. "I came with my girlfriend and really didn't know their music," Jason Whiting, 17, of Renton, Wash., said. "But I was really impressed. They totally rocked."
For other fans, it was more than just a rock show. "They are so amazing," Katie Walters, 19, of Seattle said. "They are such great musicians and talented songwriters. They seem so passionate about their music, and that really inspires me."
The crowd enjoyed the new songs but came to life when Sleater-Kinney broke out the classics. "Words and Guitar" (RealAudio excerpt) got the audience jumping as Tucker wailed above the wall of guitars and traded lyrics with the charged Brownstein. Other songs from Dig Me Out (1997) included "Little Babies," "Turn It On" and the urgent, energetic title track.
The all-ages crowd at the Showbox ranged from young children to parents. As Brownstein took the stage for the encore she laughed and said, "Someone was trying to pull me into the crowd it was my mom. Hi mom!" The whole venue shook as the audience pogoed to "One Song for You" and "Start Together" from 1999's The Hot Rock.
Sleater-Kinney also covered a couple of other bands' classics. Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," with its throbbing, seductive opening notes escalating into the crescendo of "feed your head," was a natural for the band. To close out the evening, Sleater-Kinney enlisted members of opening bands the Need and Gene Defcon to join them in a joyous rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son."
Sleater-Kinney's tour will continue through May and June. The band will return home to Olympia, Wash., in August to play at Ladyfest 2000, a showcase for the artistic, organizational and political work and talents of women.