After a Decade Away, Sleater-Kinney Slays L.A.: Concert Review

Leslie Kalohi
The influential girl group performs a high-energy set spanning an impressive career.

The influential girl group performs a high-energy set spanning an impressive career.

“It’s been a few years since we’ve played L.A.,” noted Sleater-Kinney singer-guitarist Carrie Brownstein — about 10, to be exact.

Following a nearly decade-long hiatus, in which the band members of the venerable rock act pursued other projects, Corin Tucker (The Corin Tucker Band), Janet Weiss (Quasi, Wild Flag) and Brownstein (IFC’s popular sketch show Portlandia) have reunited to promote the release of new album No Cities to Love, the follow-up to 2005’s The Woods, performing two consecutive nights at the Hollywood Palladium on April 29 and 30.

When the band announced in 2006 that it had no plans for future tours or recordings, the reasons why were not entirely clear, except for hints at tension among the band members and their desire to pursue other projects. The official press release stated: “We want to extend our gratitude to our amazing fans. You have been a part of our story from the beginning. We could not have made our music without your enthusiasm, passion and loyalty. It is you who have made the entire journey worthwhile.”

Many of those fans were in attendance, some of whom wore their original (and fading) Sleater-Kinney T-shirts from earlier tours. There also were the younger fans, those who might have learned about Sleater-Kinney from watching Portlandia. The classics, from “Turn It On” to “Dig Me Out,” were as well received as new album tracks “Price Tag” and “No Cities to Love,” which Brownstein introduced by stating, “This song is not about L.A.”

Photo by Leslie Kalohi

The band kept the small talk to a minimum, blazing through a 21-song set. But the energy onstage was palpable, and it seemed that the hiatus provided the trio with a much-needed break and some creative rejuvenation. Regarding the process of recording Cities to Love, Brownstein said, “We sound possessed on these songs, willing it all — the entire weight of the band and what it means to us — back into existence.”

That powerful willfulness was felt, as Tucker’s strong, clear vocals sailed across the venue, affecting all in attendance at the 4,000-person capacity venue; Weiss steadily held court behind her drum kit, swinging her signature short bob to the rhythm; and Brownstein enthusiastically kicked her legs to the beat and skillfully strummed her guitar.

Brownstein dedicated “Rollercoaster” to “our special friend Ian Rubbish,” the opening act helmed by fellow Portlandia star Fred Armisen. The song itself features the playful interplay of vocals between Brownstein and Tucker, which was a mainstay throughout the night. The pairing of the vocals was especially on display in “Oh!” — contrasting the higher pitch of Tucker’s voice (often compared to a banshee’s wail) to the fast-paced delivery of Brownstein’s punchy vocals.

The set spanned the trio’s career, and it was impressive how potent Sleater-Kinney’s music remains today, more than 20 years after the band’s formation. Considered feminist activists and leaders of the riot grrrl movement, Sleater-Kinney continues to craft music with social and political relevance. Take new track “Price Tag,” a meditation on working an everyday 9-to-5 job and struggling to make ends meet: “It’s 9 a.m. We must clock in. The system waits for us,” Tucker sings, later musing in the chorus, “We never really checked, we never checked the price tag.”

Sleater-Kinney ended the night with the quieter Woods track “Modern Girl,” during which the audience sang along, raising their drinks and swaying along to the melody. The song itself was a fitting end to the performance, a reflection on the band’s career and where the members are today. “My whole life is like a picture of a sunny day,” the band and audience sang together in unison with smiles on their faces.

Set List:

Price Tag
Fangless
Turn It On
What’s Mine Is Yours
Surface Envy
Rollercoaster
Oh!
Start Together
Ironclad
One Beat
The Fox
Words and Guitar
No Cities to Love
A New Wave
No Anthems
Bury Our Friends
Entertain
Jumpers

Encore:

One More Hour
Dig Me Out
Modern Girl

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