For those not initiated, Sleater-Kinney are a punk rock trio from Portland, Oregon. They've been around for a decade or more now -- some people call them the last of the riot grrrl bands still standing. Like a lot of great artists they have managed to evolve and not fade away once their original sound gets played out. That said, the basic formula remains two guitarists, Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, who fire off a rapid sequence of complex guitar riffs so that each seems to intermesh and bounce off the other. At their best, this interplay gives their sound a lot more intricacy than the usual power-chord-rhythm-plus-lead-guitar paradigm that most bands employ. Add in interlocking vocals and some thundering drums courtesy Janet Weiss, and they're pretty much unstoppable. Still they've had to put up with their fair share of sexist amazement that a trio of women can somehow flat-out rock harder than MTVs entire lineup of boyish pop-punk bands.
Anyway, their latest album, The Woods, might end up being my favorite even though it represents a pretty big departure from their usual style. Committing a bit of punk rock heresy, the new albums sounds very classic-rock-y, not so much The Clash as Led Zeppelin or The Who, with maybe a dash of Sonic Youth. They've also (somehow!) upped the volume -- as Spinal Tap would say, they've turned their amps up to 11 for these songs. The vocals sound borderline unhinged on a few songs and Carrie whips out a few yowling guitar solos that would make Jimmy Page sit-up and take notes. Here is a great interview with Carrie where she describes the methods and madnesses behind the change of style.
The show last night was very much in this new style. Many songs featured guitar solos either as a bridge between sections or acting as a segue to another song. The transition from "Let's Call It Love" into "Entertain", and the instrumental intro to "Words and Guitar" were both pretty awesome. The highlights for me were "Jumpers", which is the single although not a favorite until I heard it live, "Modern Girl" which is softer and more melodic but no less pointed for it, and "Rollercoaster", which is just a fun fun song that they played with big grins on their faces. They also played several rousing political songs, both "Combat Rock" which asks,
Where is the questioning? Where is the protest song?and an energetic cover of CCR's "Fortunate Son" (which now seems more relevant than ever). Horray for rabble-rousing feminist punk rock!
Since when is skepticism un-American?
If anyone wants to check out their music, they have a few free downloads on their official site, http://www.sleater-kinney.com, in addition to seven great albums.