Jams Without Granola
SEEING Sleater-Kinney Sunday night in San
Francisco was at times like watching Television, the legendary band that
came out of New York's punk scene in the 1970s.
Sleater-Kinney's punchy arsenal of
three-minute songs and true do-it-yourself attitude has often been
compared to CBGB vets such as the Ramones and other punk legends. But
never before has the SK's taunt take on rock'n' roll brought the spacey
jams of Television to mind.
Sunday at the Fillmore, this highly
acclaimed indie act jammed like nobody's business. Much to the surprise
of longtime fans, the trio turned its focus inward, watching each other
carefully and boldly improvising some numbers.
The audience witnessed a band, finally,
The roaring mixtures of buzzsaw guitars,
heavy drum beats and primal screams of the band's self-titled debut in
1995 have made SK one of the most successful indie bands in the world.
But SK is changing and jamming -- one of the most feared words all of
However, don't expect to see any SK
bumper stickers on VW buses at Phish shows anytime soon. There's still a
big difference between SK's jams and the gooey adventures of String
Cheese Incident or the far-reaching explorations of Widespread Panic.
SK jams without the granola, mostly
leaving out the blues licks and psychedelic wanderings to open itself to
a palette of aggressive, yet hypnotic, rock sounds. In that sense, the
trio is very reminiscent of Television.
These jams further the adventure begun on
2002's "One Beat," the trio's most diverse offering to date. With that
album, SK stretched its trademark two-guitars-and-drums sound to include
other elements and instruments.
One thing definitely hasn't changed: This
band, which takes its name from a freeway off-ramp in Olympia, Wash.,
remains one of the best live acts in the business. Sunday's concert
proved why it's in vogue to refer to SK as "the world's greatest rock
band," which would make the trio the first female act to hold the title.
Starting with a well-received set by
Quasi, which also features SK's Janet Weiss on drums, the trio burst
into action with a scalding rendition of "Turn It On" from 1997's "Dig
Me Out" and the fiery ride didn't stop for 75 minutes.
They played it straight at first,
delivering by-the-book versions of "One Beat," "Not What You Want,"
"Combat Rock" and "Faraway," and leaving the grinding improvisation for
later in the show.
The band was in great form and put on a
memorable concert for its passionate following, many of whom had
attended Saturday's show as well.
Weiss, clearly not worn out from the
earlier set with Quasi, was a punishing drummer, alternating between
machine gun-style quick beats and sledgehammer displays of pure power.
Lead vocalist Corin Tucker is one of
rock's best screamers and she sounded like she was battling for her soul
as she howled through "Turn It On" and "Not What You Want.
But she also showcased a surprising
amount of range, notably on the "One Beat"-track "Sympathy." A
staggering change of pace from the regular Ramones-style fury,
"Sympathy" was a slow winner that could have been handled by Bonnie
Berkeley resident Carrie Brownstein was
the most animated of the bunch, delivering Pete Townshend-style
windmills on her guitar and kicking her legs like Bruce Lee.
She also led the charge when it came time
to spread the jam. Handling the roles occupied by both Tom Verlaine and
Richard Lloyd in Television, Brownstein went deep into space during
"Hollywood Ending" and "Little Babies." It's not absurd to say that one
could even hear a little Jerry Garcia in her adventuresome
Springing to life from the Dead, the trio
kicked off its generous encore with Tucker screaming out the
fan-favorite "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone."
She was only partially successful in that
pursuit. On this night, Sleater-Kinney was equal parts Ramones and