Sleater-Kinney (Photo: by Daniel Kielman)
Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein make it look easy to bring a great live show after nine albums in, especially for a band that has survived the recent departure of beloved drummer Janet Weiss. Having pulled together for over 20 years now, Sleater-Kinney know how to bring it. The release of one of their darkest albums during these turbulent times, this year’s excellent The Center Won’t Hold, has resulted in some new frontiers for the band to explore in the live setting at the Fox Theater, as there has never been more to angry and upset with in the world in this lifetime.
The set list for the current tour leans heavily into the new album, showcasing almost the entirety of the new tracks with tons of songs that span their career sprinkled throughout, giving something for fans new and old something to enjoy regardless of whether this was the first or fifteenth time seeing the band live. Confession: this is my first time seeing Sleater-Kinney. And I loved every second of it.
My adoration for the band begins pre-hiatus, with the release of their 7th album, The Woods, and unfortunately for me I missed them right before they took an extended break as Tucker explored solo ventures, Brownstein explored acting and riot grrl supergroups, and Weiss become the resident drummer for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. During the time apart, I grew to love their discography and was afraid I would never get the chance to see them perform live. Fast-forward to missing out on their 2015 reunion with the excellent No Cities to Love and still missing my chance, only to finally get the opportunity with their recent album produced by St. Vincent. The time has given me a chance to explore their albums, see how they’ve grown not only as a band, but as important spokespersons for marginalized communities — as evidenced by Brownstein’s shout-out midway through the show for the San Francisco LGBT Community Center for the work that they’ve provided.
The show that night featured Chicago pop artist KAINA open for the band. KAINA has a great live band and powerful voice that got the show started off right, performing with love and focus for an audience that got into it more and more as the performance moved forward.
From the moment the Sleater-Kinney took the stage, their energy was in full force. At no point during the show did they relent in giving the audience every ounce of energy that they had, delivering each song with the utmost urgency. The earlier part of the night leaned heavier into more recent songs, but the moment everyone really got on board is when they jumped into “What’s Mine Is Yours,” with its bouncy call-and-response guitar riff, resulting in an extended jam between Carrie and Corin midway through the song. Following this song was the first moment where the band spoke to the audience: Brownstein speaking about how it’s important for all of us to show up, with no veiling for what she was talking about, and concluding with a nice transition into the show for the night by telling the audience that they band was grateful for everyone who showed up for them that night and that they were there to show up for everyone too.
One of my favorite parts of any Sleater-Kinney songs has to be Tucker’s vocals. Her howls pierce through the distortion and thrashing drums to become a beast of their own, be it in songs like “The Fox” or “Jumpers,” and it’s a pleasure to hear it live and still as powerful as ever after all these years. Her voice still booms and fills the room and was mostly evident on the older tracks the band busted out during the night. The new songs fit seamlessly into the night, especially “Bad Dance” which felt like a song they had been performing for years in their show. Additionally, “The Future Is Here” is a great buildup that is easily a highlight that will be a part of their show for years to come. Some songs took on a different form as expected in a live show: Notably, “RUINS” was faster and more urgent than its album counterpart.
One of the joys of Sleater-Kinney is when Brownstein and Tucker harmonize. There were plenty of chances during the night to showcase those moments, such as in one of their newer songs “Can I Go On.” As the night finished, an extended encore began with five songs that began with the devastating and draining “Broken,” with Tucker accompanied by Brownstein on piano. After this, the night transitioned into a short set list dedicated to older numbers. One of the finest last moments of the night was Brownstein performing “Modern Girl” and had the audience singing along, despite Brownstein noting that, when she wrote the song she was living in the Bay and in a very depressed state, finding it confusing how people will play it at their weddings. As she finished, she smiled, telling everyone that she loved the Bay.
It couldn’t have felt more appropriate for the audience to end the evening singing along to a bunch of ballads they wrote in very different states of their lives. Sleater-Kinney are in a new state now and are moving ahead as great as ever, and it will be exciting to see what music they bring next. We certainly always will need more of them.