Sleater-Kinney: Bruised but Undefeated
While ominous is not usually a word associated with early aught punk legends Sleater-Kinney, the initial feeling at their San Diego Observatory show on Nov. 12 certainly was.
They opened, decked out in black, with the Black Sabbath-like “The Center Won’t Hold” from the album of the same name. Background visuals included a silhouette of a cackling cartoon hyena. Bassist Carrie Brownstein snarled, “I need something muddy to cover up the stains” to lurching drumming and droning keyboards before moving into fuzzy guitars and synchronized shouting that was more recognizably Sleater-Kinney and yet… still ominous. It’s not an unwelcome sensation for a band like Sleater-Kinney, just unexpected. And, while the unexpected can be jarring, it was also exhilarating to witness Sleater-Kinney perform their left-turn with such gleeful aplomb.
The first time I saw Sleater-Kinney was nearly twenty years ago in support of their classic album One Beat. I remember greatly appreciating the fierce percussion of former band member Janet Weiss (check out her awesome work with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks) then, but the remaining members Corrie Tucker and Carrie Brownstein keep trekking with a restless ferocity that belies the fact that they have been producing powerful feminist punk rock since AOL Dial Up. In the meanwhile riot grrrl, royalty Sleater-Kinney have indirectly/directly inspired plenty of newer bands including The Groans and The Graveyard Junkies, while possibly being influenced by a tinge of stoner metal from LA Witch on their own new album.
Sleater-Kinney moved joyously and efficiently through their new songs with occasional nods to their previous work. Once the shock subsided, Sleater-Kinney’s new stuff was genuinely impressive. “Hurry On Home” explores the seemingly contradictory feelings of emotional dependence and struggle for autonomy in romantic relationships with wit and hard-earned maturity. Tucker and Brownstein plead, “Disconnect me from my bones so I can float and roam/Disconnect me from my skin, erase the marks begin again” with a low tuned guitar and creepy keyboards from multi-instrumentalist Toko Yasuda that made me feel like I was at a cemetery. It felt like Sleater-Kinney, but it didn’t feel like Sleater-Kinney, which is a damn cool trick.
Their first single “Love” also stood out. It achieves that neat balancing act of navigating emotional darkness while managing to sound life-affirming. Brownstein yelps, “call the doctor/ Dig me out of this mess” before telling us “We can be young/We can be old/as long as we have each other to hold.” It’s easily the catchiest and most classically “Sleater-Kinney” song of the new album and will have you shouting along with the chorus whether you want to or not. Their encore included “Broken” a song in support of the very brave Professor Christina Blassey Ford for her attempt to bring sexual predator and Supreme Court uber-villain Bret Kavanaugh to elusive justice. Tucker and Brownstein took the stage without supporting band and Tucker’s quiet yet damning vocals was good medicine in a time where the President of the United States unapologetically brags about non-consensual touching. When they closed with the raucous “Dig Me Out” from their great early album of the same name we were all reminded of how vital Sleater-Kinney remain in the age of #MeToo, bruised but undefeated.