Sleater-Kinney has now earned a new tier of fans, the Riot Grrls and Boys who grew up in the past decade, had kids and bought in.
(Photos: Peter Hutchins)
For those living in the Pacific Northwest, Sleater-Kinney is a band that has reached mythic proportions. Just take a drive up I-5 to Seattle and somewhere around Olympia you will see the overpass for the road from where Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss drew the group’s name. Add a 10-year hiatus from recording – new album No Cities to Love is the band’s first since 2005 – and a Sleater-Kinney tour is something to celebrate.
While Weiss and Tucker quietly retreated to other projects such as Quasi and the Corin Tucker Band, Brownstein saw her profile rise to career-high levels by co-starring with Fred Armisen in the popular television show “Portlandia,” a sketch comedy program devoted to celebrating and skewering the weirdness and weirdos that make our lovely city what it is. Already famous, at least in indie circles, for Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein’s fame has eclipsed her comrades. Hell, she even threw out the first pitch at a Mariners game the other day. Other cities may show athletes sitting in the crowd on the Jumbotron during basketball games, but we get Brownstein.
So when Sleater-Kinney returned to Portland for its first tour in a very long time, it makes sense the show would sell out. The Crystal Ballroom is one of the city’s largest general admission venues and it was packed with longtime fans excited to see the band again, from young Riot Grrls finally getting to witness one of the movement’s most important groups to people who love “Portlandia” and just wanted to be in the same room as Brownstein. But let’s get back to those Riot Grrls. This was an alternative scene with teeth, music buoyed with danger and righteous anger. But looking around at the folks with tucked-in dress shirts and fancy purses, Sleater-Kinney has now earned a new tier of fans, the Riot Grrls and Boys who grew up in the past decade, had kids and bought in.
Yes, Tucker and Brownstein howled and moaned songs old and new and resurrected their guitar stand-offs and Weiss pounded the shit out of her set, but something felt inherently missing, especially with music with such a fiery legacy. The show reminded me of the time I saw Metallica back in 2007, long after they peaked and became caricatures of themselves. I’m not saying that Sleater-Kinney is anywhere, anywhere as ridiculous as Metallica has become, but the show mostly felt by-the-numbers, especially in the early going.
On record, the new songs from No Cities to Love edge towards glorious power pop. In the live setting, they felt more or less rote. Sleater-Kinney did pepper the set with some rarities such as “Little Babies,” but even they didn’t have that much punch. Only the material from The Woods expressed that underlying danger I sorely needed, especially “What’s Mine is Yours” and the two songs that closed out the main set: “Entertain” and “Jumpers.”
While the large room could have stripped the show somewhat of that aforementioned fire, Sleater-Kinney just isn’t the same band that shredded its way into the national consciousness back in the ‘90s and first half of the oughts. They are no longer hungry, now happily couched on the throne of rock royalty, especially in a town that reveres such celebrity as the top of the paramount. Maybe it’s expecting too much. How many of us are the same as we were back in 1997? I am certainly angrier.