When a band sets out to overturn something that has persisted for decades -- the ascendency of male musicians in rock music -- they have two choices: they can do something totally different, or they c
When a band sets out to overturn something that has persisted for decades -- the ascendency of male musicians in rock music -- they have two choices: they can do something totally different, or they can try and beat the boys at their own game.
For 10 years, Sleater-Kinney has been absolutely magnificent at the former. From an isolated location (Portland, Ore.) the group has operated outside of the regular channels, both in its music and business practices. S-K stuck with a tiny regional label for six albums, toured on its own and championed political causes "bigger" bands wouldn't touch. For its trouble, S-K has wound up with three classic albums and a fan base that knows every word to every one of its songs. On Oct. 14 at suburban Denver's Gothic Theatre, however, the trio revealed a new side. Sleater-Kinney is ready to play with the boys.
At the Gothic Theatre, the band raged through a set drawn almost entirely from this year's Sub Pop debut, "The Woods." Huge, nearly metal-ish rockers like "The Fox" and "Let's Call It Love" sound more Led Zeppelin than Bikini Kill. During the hummable "What's Mine Is Yours," the band pulled out to allow Brownstein an extended solo guitar break with delay pedal stunts and paralyzing feedback. To a certain extent the fervor of this new material drowns out melody, but the bluesy riff of "Rollercoaster" and Tucker's force-of-nature voice made that song one of the highlights of the show.
The earlier material that made it into the set list was performed with a certain detachment. "Get Up" was duly served up to the loyal fans but never reached the incendiary level of an S-K live show from five years ago. "O2" and "One Beat" from the last album faded into the background as the unbelievable loudness of the "Woods" tracks demanded attention.
Throughout, drummer Janet Weiss kept the show rolling with aplomb. While the lack of a low end occasionally left Tucker and Brownstein soupy and out of sync, Weiss simply never missed a beat. For the closing "Let's Call It Love," Weiss performed essentially a 10-minute crescendo while the guitarists shredded like Angus Youngs. After drifting into "Entertain" and finishing in a wave of guitar acrobatics, a spent Brownstein was barely able to lift her leg for one of her trademark side kicks.
Tucker and Weiss emerged to perform the encore without their band mate, and as they dutifully ran through "Good Things," Tucker's weary grin and rolling eyes indicated her opinion now of the old song, as if she was an English teacher reading an aspiring freshman poet's first submission.
Of course, any band that lasts this long is forced to grow, and It's admirable that Sleater-Kinney has been proactive about changing its sound. But it's going to take a few more albums until this mix of guitar horror and agitprop lyrics goes down as smooth as "All Hands on the Bad One."
In the meantime, it's still a fearless and unpredictable show, as when Carrie eased off on the effects pedals to sing the lovely, bittersweet "Modern Girl." The band doesn't always keep it together when its members begin flying off into space. However, it's better to try for bigger things and fail than to rest on old laurels.
Here is Sleater-Kinney's set list:
"Was It a Lie"
"What's Mine Is Yours"
"Let's Call It Love" -> "Entertain"