Hot Rockers

By Shona Black for March 4th, 2005

Sleater-Kinney more than live up to expectations

I’m a little late to the Sleater-Kinney party, but after seeing them live at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, I am fully, exuberantly, on board.

For those few other souls out there who have yet to discover this prototypical ‘grrrl’ band, Sleater-Kinney have been an integral part of the indie rock scene for the past decade. It is easy – almost lazy – to categorize the Portland trio as righteous babe rockers, the embodiment of the spirit of Pacific Northwest femrock.

And they are, indisputably, that – but what is more striking about the band’s appeal is far broader than this labelling implies. Sleater-Kinney truly rock. The bedrock foundation of their appeal lies firmly entrenched in unimpeachable musical virtuosity. It goes without saying that each of the three is a master of their craft. All three play individually with the driving intensity that has become the group’s signature style; but it is the way they play together that truly makes the sound of Sleater-Kinney greater than the sum of its parts.

Janet Weiss’ energetic and superbly confident drumming sets the ideal framework for the guitars and vocals of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. Each element is aggressive, but never at the expense of either of the others. Their seamlessly blended harmonies are echoes visually in the stage set-up: each point and each side of the triangle holds equal sway, and the visual and audio harmony is the result of a perfect balancing act.

Beyond these grounding assets, the live show delivers on several levels. Perhaps most striking, Carrie Brownstein has completely and utterly mastered the iconography of rock guitar heroics. Her performance, rife with rockstar posturing, could so easily cross over into irretrievable campiness; but her extravagant gestures, fuelled by pitch-perfect enthusiasm and honed to perfection, stay firmly on the side of eloquent and evocative. I don’t believe there is any other guitarist on the scene right now who could conceivably get away with this, and it succeeds spectacularly in working the crowd into rapturous ecstasy. Sexy, fun, raunchily elegant: this is the epitome of rock.

The other element Sleater-Kinney have going for them is the tremendous camaraderie they seem to share in exulting in their music. In this age of American Idol, it is a great joy to watch performers who are more interested in the performance than the buzz. Sleater-Kinney exhibit a commitment to their music that is as sophisticated as it is charming. Their onstage enthusiasm is reminiscent of the early Beatles; these three seem blatantly to enjoy playing music in a way that, sadly, is almost shocking in its unexpectedness. No trace of artistic disaffection or jadedness is evident in this exuberant display.

The Commodore show was part of an all too brief mini-tour in preview of their forthcoming album, The Woods, due to be released May 24th. I would urge anyone who has the opportunity to see this transformative act to do so. I know I can’t wait to see them again.