And stands the test of time.
Until recently, only their most popular songs were strewn throughout my musical consciousness. In a marathon research session, I waded through their over 20-year discography and began to uncover why Sleater-Kinney still exists. I kept thinking, I would have loved this band in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s if the emo scene didn’t have its nails so deep in me. They didn’t fit the mold I initially wanted them to fill–and thank fucking god they didn’t. They earnestly do their thing without trying to be anything but Sleater-Kinney. Roots in riot grrrl, evolution to indie rock, called “America’s best rock band” by Time Magazine and “America’s best punk band. EVER” by Rolling Stone, these are seasoned musicians loving the shit out of what they do and giving enough fucks to facilitate a show and album that appeals to fans new and old without desperately catering to them.
The crowd lined up early Thursday night in Hollywood for the No Cities To Love tour–apparently eager for SK’s much anticipated return after nearly a decade of silence. A respectable blend of 20s and 30s queer ladies, musically inclined semi-hipsters with a not altogether terrible sense of style and a smattering of older folks (ideally, fans from back in the day when SK was still playing tiny venues around Seattle and the Pacific Northwest–unlikely, but possible). The show was blissfully free of teens, and I raised my cup to the rock gods for that respite. Sleater-Kinney is a band that has probably flown under the radar of most millennials, but is a good example of a “searing” vehicle that has brought down barriers, commanded political discourse and in general embodied all things badass.
As a live act, SK did not disappoint. They lead with “Price Tag” and played heavily from their newest album. Carrie Brownstein (of Portlandia fame) and Corin Tucker brought an electric stage presence while Janet Weiss tore up the drums and were duly worshipped by the crowd, skillfully weaving in songs from albums as far back as 1997’s Dig Me Out, and nodding to the hits that made them more accessible to a broader audience, such as “Jumpers” and “Oh”. It was clear by the audience’s engagement and songs being sung along to–the fans were impressed.
The way the group came back together after an eight-year hiatus felt right. These artists gave themselves space to grow apart, yet never evoked the tired reprise of a band that has recently reunited–they’re not here to collect a paycheck. They are here because they have something to say. “Stripped of blandishment and filled with…the cause of duty. Their music [is] their way to argue, to assert one’s right to exist, to coalesce an insurgency, to give the girls and the queer kids and the weirdos the language and anthems they [need].” The band was incredibly confident and present on stage, connected to each other and the audience. Touring an album that is both new and accessible (check out the video for “A New Wave” by Bob’s Burgers animators) to a younger generation has its risks, not only artistically but psychologically. But taking in the small talk of the crowd before they went on, there was nothing but adoration.
Closing with the first two tracks of Dig Me Out, followed by “Modern Girl”, was appropriate. It reiterated that SK has evolved without denying their core identity as rock musicians. “My whole life looks like a picture of a sunny day,” sums up their tongue-in-cheek self-awareness. A devious, one-eyebrow-cocked, half-smile front. Sleater-Kinney does Sleater-Kinney incredibly well, and it took a necessary pause in the creative process for this band to breathe, relax, come back and just kill it.