San Antonio Express-News : Greatest indie rock band lives up to praise

By Hector Saldaña

It's not easy being the greatest indie rock band in the world. Oh, to live in the world according to fabled rock critic Greil Marcus.

But a chagrined Sleater-Kinney will take it, if with a blush.

"It's definitely flattering," said guitarist Carrie Brownstein, admitting that it's a little embarrassing, too. "Always with music journalism, even with someone very eloquent like Greil Marcus, it can be really so separate from who you are. There is a slight disconnect."

Brownstein added, "It's sometimes like I'm reading about someone else" in the New York Times and Time magazine.

The acclaimed female punk trio — guitarists Brownstein and Corin Tucker and drummer Janet Weiss — perform Saturday with Pearl Jam at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.

Last year's album, "One Beat," the Olympia, Wash., band's sixth, makes a convincing argument that Marcus (and many other rock journalists) are probably right about these high-minded critic's darlings.

Could it be that great tracks such as "Oh!" and "Light Rail Coyote" feature aggressive guitar riffs that recall the Yardbirds' "Heart Full of Soul" and Led Zeppelin? Not to mention Tucker's and Brownstein's Bikini Kill-and Elastica-influenced riot grrrl vocals.

"I love the Yardbirds. I have a few of their records," Brownstein said, citing "Over Under Sideways Down" as a personal favorite. "I love the Kinks, Zeppelin. I have a lot of '60s music. Arthur Lee's Love and the Byrds, I like. I have a pretty vast record collection."

Like her '60s and '70s favorites, there is a chemistry that Sleater-Kinney exudes that is "greater than the sum of its parts," says Brownstein. It's a dynamic that allows for post-Sept. 11 and post-motherhood dissections.

"Certainly, our friendships (in the band) is something that we nurture and something that we work on. There's a lot of stress that comes being in a band," Brownstein said.

"Chemistry is not something that you can manufacture. I think you have it or you don't. It has to do with an alchemy that exists or doesn't."

The band doesn't have a bass player. But Tucker plays her electric guitar through a bass amplifier and equalizer pedal "that freaks out the lower end" and plays interlocking bass line runs and heavy-stringed chords. Weiss' drums complete the stomach-thudding register.

Brownstein, acknowledging that Sleater-Kinney only plays with like-minded bands, doesn't see the Pearl Jam pairing as too odd.

"We're very conscious of the bills," Brownstein said. "Pearl Jam, at least Eddie Vedder, we've known for a few years. He's another Northwest musician. He's been a fan of the band. And I do agree with a lot of Pearl Jam's politics."

"It's a little bit weird, the pairing," she acknowledged. "It's gonna be out of our element. But I don't think it's as weird as people might think."