Sleater-Kinney Still Unstoppable at NYC’s Terminal 5
There's a fundamental truth about Sleater-Kinney's sound that comes into focus while they're playing live, as they did last night (Feb. 26) at Terminal 5 in New York. This truth is that Sleater-Kinney are about big sounds crashing against quieter, understated ones. The big sounds, forces of nature, include: Corin Tucker's voice like a railroad spike; Janet Weiss' barreling drums; and garage guitars sniping away at each other.
The quieter sounds also stand right there next to all the noise: Carrie Brownstein's stock-still demeanor is almost like a disguise and a little menacing in its lack of Portlandia charm; the tightly-knitted melodies that weave through bridges and pre-choruses are a bit obscured by crushing guitars; and the gentler interplay between Tucker and Brownstein is laid bare on "No Cities to Love" and "Modern Girl." Any band who made their way through the '90s can do loud-quiet-loud, but this is all of the above, all at once.
If Sleater-Kinney were ever better at combining these two elements for a goosebump-inducing show, it's not obvious. This tour has been described as a reunion, but last night sounded nothing like a reunion: Old-school fans were easily outnumbered by 20-somethings and the band were as eager to tear into the audience as if it were their first time. Tucker ripped through "Surface Envy" and "One Beat"; the guitars sniped hardest on "Dig Me Out" and "Bury Our Friends" (with a Led Zeppelin stomp courtesy of Weiss). Somewhere between Tucker's ecstatic vocals, Brownstein's scowl and that Weiss crush, the band tap into the ferocity of rock in its natural, unadulterated state. They smartly stay out of its way, limiting their stage banter mostly to thank yous, plus one declaration of allegiance to Planned Parenthood leading into "Gimme Love"; any other distractions and this collision of forces might be tempered.
For all the epic interplay between Brownstein and Tucker, Weiss might be our favorite member of the band. After all, it's her drumming -- her slamming and stuttering -- that gives this music its hyper-rhythmic undercurrent. Also, during "Modern Girl," she played drums and harmonica at the same time. Weiss for president.
Part of the urgency -- the non-datedness -- is clearly due to the fact that the music the band make now sits so easily next to their classics. The new stuff grooves a little more; the guitars slice, rather than claw. The two songs that actually gave us chills were almost 20 years old: "Words and Guitar," as close as it gets to a perfect song, and "One More Hour," one of the band's earliest and best attempts at combining the strengths of both Brownstein and Tucker. But, really, the passage of time has done nothing to this band -- they kick as much ass as anyone, if not more.
Sleater-Kinney -- Terminal 5
Sleater-Kinney -- Setlist, Feb. 26, 2015
"What's Mine Is Yours"
"No Cities to Love"
"A New Wave"
"The End of You"
"Words and Guitar"
"Bury Our Friends"
"Turn It On"
"One More Hour"
"Dig Me Out"