Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Re-Start Together: The Return Of Sleater-Kinney

08 FEBRUARY, 2015
Unbeknownst to us at the time, but perfectly in keeping, Sleater Kinney had spent the last 18 months of a nine year hiatus plotting and planning their resurface. Not content with milking the hits, they boiled up new material, honed it mercilessly, and somehow kept the whole process dark from the public, no mean feat in this age of 24/7 internet-driven gossip. During their hiatus, the band: Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss, certainly had no problem keeping busy, with Tucker forming the Corin Tucker Band, Brownstein blogging for NPR, reuniting with Weiss for Wild Flag, and bringing Portlandia to life, while Janet Weiss focused on her ongoing Quasi project, in addition to being one of the top on call touring drummers. Last fall, Sub Pop dropped a career spanning box set, and what caught the eye when plowing through the bonus materials was a white label 45 that simply said: "01/20/15". Containing their first new music released to the world since 2005's The Woods, it set off the proverbial avalanche. No Cities To Love was the album that matched up with the Date Of Mystery, and it is a corker, Wasting no time, they announced a tour, prefacing it with a scorching David Letterman appearance, and that brings us to Spokane.

While the rest of what's left of the Industry focused on their annual congrat-fest known as the Grammys, this Sunday evening marked the return to active duty for the band, adding Katie Harkin from Sky Larkin to fill out the proceedings. The Knitting Factory in Spokane was sold out to its 1500 capacity, and the faithful came from as far away as the UK to be present for this moment. Any notion of a sepia-tinged nostalgia gig were quickly dispelled as they kicked off with the first two cuts from the new LP, economic anxiety anthem "Price Tag" and "Fangless". Over the course of the night, they would work in almost all of No Cities To Love, cherry-picking their robust back catalog to fill in the rest. First foray into the past was The Hot Rock's "Start Together", which gave its name to the aforementioned box set, and the frenzy escalated when they moved into "Oh!" from One Beat.
Back to the new for a thundering "No Anthems", before dropping a trio of "Get Up", "Ironclad", and "One Beat" into the proceedings, and it speaks to the power of the set that they can drop lead single "Bury Our Friends" into the middle. "What's Mine Is Yours" was the shredding showcase that set up the gut punch of "One More Hour", still an emotional touchstone in the group's work. Title track of the new album and "Surface Envy" followed, and it was time again to marvel at the new material's strength, before dropping headlong into "Words and Guitar". The peak of the night for me was the closing quartet of the main set. When the screams died down after Corin Tucker belted out the first line of "Sympathy", it was replaced by the crowd bellowing back at her, fully engaged. After a breathless take on "A New Wave", the band laid out a double shot from The Woods, with a snarling "Entertainment" giving way to "Jumpers".

The shows of their final (pre-hiatus) tour in 2006 had a desperate car crash intensity, where every emotion was magnified, and it was actually a relief that the tenor of this show was celebratory-a lot of smiling and winning chemistry between the ladies. It could have easily been a cash-grab, but Sleater Kinney were never about half-measures, and this night proved that, no matter what, they would do it their way.

Lizzo, (from Minnesota), got the prized opening slot on this tour, making the most it with a burning set, her intensity matched by her DJ. "Batches and Cookies" was a high point, and the live drummer added extra punch to the sound. It was a great introduction to a talent whose skill and heart showed through, and I'll look forward to catching up with her again.