All photos for mxdwn by Owen Ela.
Sleater-Kinney delivers a sound that is at once nostalgic, immediate, and necessary. Tonally entrenched in the times that made them, the firebrand trio stokes the flames of mid-90s dissonance with gleeful, firebug abandon. Rock god riffs are tempered with the whimsical discoveries of the self-taught, yanking the ear on a search for the primal as opposed to the methodical. Sleater-Kinney is the thumping pulse of rock elementalism: hard and unfailing beats, warbling throat calls, and lurking harmonies that suddenly break through the noise. They are pure. They are source. With Carrie Brownstein’s infectious, high-kicking energy, Corin Tucker’s chest-piercing vocals, and Janet Weiss’s unfailing beats, Sleater-Kinney’s music is a force of nature that does not cater to the passive ear. It forces its way in by design, and at the first of two nights at the Hollywood Palladium, they did not hold back.
As is often not the case, the two opening slots were aptly filled. Ian Rubbish, which is the Brit-punk alter-ego of SNL alum and Brownstein’s Portlandia co-star Fred Armison, played a predictably humorous short solo set. As the cartoonish aging blonde punk rocker, Armison performed such inane ditties as “Hey Policeman, My Boot Goes In Your Face” and “Maggie Thatcher,” keeping the growing crowd laughing with his spot-on, clueless but polite banter between songs, taking a moment even to compliment the crowd’s punctuality after singing “Living in the Gutter.”
The packed theater was then treated to an enigmatic audio-visual experience provided by Body/Head, the two-member experimental guitar project consisting of Bill Nace and former Sonic Youth bassist and noise veteran Kim Gordon. As the two generated sheets, walls, washes, and waves of noise using only their guitars, a video backdrop displayed a single black and white shot of a man and woman in what appears to be a living room in the seventies, slowed down to a crawl so that their positions barely changed for the thirty minute set. The woman blinking once, for example, took several seconds. The guitar dissonance and occasional unintelligible vocal growled by Gordon complimented the increasingly unsettling video. Unsettling if only for the fact that the nature of the meeting and the relationship depicted is a complete mystery, forcing the audience to consider what it could be: a fight, a liaison, or a conversation about where to eat. Whatever the context, the effect of the sustained shot grew in intrigue, and along with the musical accompaniment, it became mesmerizing.
For Sleater-Kinney’s set, the video backdrop was replaced by a gigantic sheet of what appeared to be distressed wool or felt that at first looked like it could be stone, until blowers at its base caused loose flaps covering it to flutter upward, creating a striking but supremely simple rising-wave effect. Contrasted by a sparse but dynamic stage light setup, the solid eighteen-song set and three-song encore was candy to both the eyes and ears. They opened with “Price Tag” and “Fangless,” two songs that also open their new album No Cities to Love. It was immediately clear what perfect guitar chemistry is created by Brownstein’s noisy flights and Tucker’s wandering rhythm work, all the more impressive when considering that S-K has no bassist, instead tuning low and tailoring the EQ to grab the lower frequencies.
The set then delved into older favorites, like “Turn It On” from 1997’s Dig Me Out, but for the most part favored their post-millenium releases, not that the new stuff is much different from the old. For some bands, a lack of tonal development over a multi-decade career can be seen as a sort of sonic stubbornness, likely caused by and resulting in boredom, but Sleater-Kinney is not one of those bands. There is no room for boredom in the spastic energy of a Sleater-Kinney song. Many harder-hitting bands get noticeably sluggish at the thirty-minute mark, but again, Sleater-Kinney is not one of these bands. Tucker’s well-worn vocal chords were just as impactful by the end of the set, Brownstein’s kicks and windmills just as high, and Weiss’s fills just as assured. The crowd, too, seemed energized rather than worn out by the end of the night. But that’s because Sleater-Kinney’s sound and delivery is like a call to attention. The at-times blood-curdling vocals and scraping guitar noise urges the completion of whatever task is at hand that requires a righteous end, and Sleater-Kinney is just the band to provide the soundtrack.
Turn It On
What’s Mine Is Yours
Words and Guitar
No Cities to Love
A New Wave
Bury Our Friends
One More Hour
Dig Me Out
All photos for mxdwn by Owen Ela.