''It's a very intense, sort of frightening time that we're living in,'' Carrie Brownstein of the band Sleater-Kinney is saying two weeks before ''shock and awe'' officially entered, and then slipped from, the vocabulary.
Sure, one musician's opinion on global conflict can easily be dismissed as liberal yapping. Sleater-Kinney, after all, is based in the Pacific Northwest, where lefty political thought can be as prevalent as rain. And this is a band -- opening for Pearl Jam at the Sound Advice Amphitheatre (formerly Coral Sky) in West Palm Beach Friday -- that launched its own preemptive strike on the state of the world with the release of last year's One Beat.
It's a record that has grown more timely with each uncertain month. More than just pointing fingers, the members of Sleater-Kinney point at problems, most of their lyrical themes falling under the states of relationships and current affairs. That's the basis of their staunch indie cred -- they're happily entrenched on the Kill Rock Stars label and in their community -- in which Sleater-Kinney prefers to keep the tunes pure and the opinions unfiltered, with glimmers of hope just in reach.
But now comes Sleater-Kinney's most mainstream venture to date: touring large arenas, opening for Pearl Jam on 11 dates across the south.
''We were definitely interested in doing something different,'' says guitarist Brownstein, who is joined in the group by guitarist-vocalist Corin Tucker and drummer Janet Weiss. ``I think it's good to do that once in a while.''
This is the critically acclaimed band's first foray into Florida, a state that until now was on the list with Oklahoma, Alaska and Arkansas as places Sleater-Kinney had yet to visit. On the phone from her Portland, Ore., home, Brownstein explains: ``As a band, we just have not been to Florida.''
The band was born during Olympia, Washington's early '90s riot-grrrl movement, centered on Bikini Kill founder Kathleen Hanna, still being her feminist self in Le Tigre. Tucker (Heavens to Betsy) and Brownstein (Excuse 17) named Sleater-Kinney after the freeway near their practice space.
A self-titled debut and the 1996 album Call the Doctor followed, the latter including the ubiquitous I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, a song in which Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore gets equal love.
Tucker's desperate, shrill, ringing vocals prove a perfect mix with Brownstein's. More than just harmonizing, their voices overlap, like two characters playing different roles. Their guitar interplay (without any bass) proved a huge, worthwhile risk that set Sleater-Kinney apart. It's comparable to other such rock-band twosomes as Television's Richard Lloyd-Tom Verlaine and The Clash's Joe Strummer-Mick Jones.
''It just started by default,'' Brownstein says. ``Corin and I didn't play bass. We wanted three people. We were out of luck.''
Acclaim soon followed. Legendary rock scribe Greil Marcus called Sleater-Kinney ''America's best rock band'' in Time magazine, and another well-regarded indie band, The Go-Betweens, used them as guest musicians on The Friends of Rachel Worth.
''You just have to take it with a grain of salt,'' Brownstein says. ``You can't play music based on the opinions of other people. We feel very fortunate fans and critics like our music. But we play music because we need it. We love that dynamic.''
The good reviews continued with One Beat, released in August. Their most complete album, it touches on Sept. 11 (Far Away), its aftermath (Step Aside, Combat Rock) and parenthood (Sympathy) -- Tucker and her hubby, filmmaker Lance Bangs, recently had a baby boy, Marshall Tucker Bangs.
''This album to me is the most vast album,'' Brownstein says. ``The sonic landscape of this record is the broadest in terms of energy, in terms of the content.''