Sleater-Kinney fans loosely packed The Van Buren last night to do more than rock out — they had to get a couple of questions answered.
One: Those new songs from their new album The Center Won't Hold (produced by St. Vincent) that offer a stylistic departure for the group — do they translate well as live versions?
Answer: Hell yeah, they do.
Two: Do the band still slay the stage without the blistering backbeat of their longtime drummer Janet Weiss?
Answer: Hell yeah, they do.
Between the brooding and dark-electro opening sounds of the title track from their latest release, the clad-in-black band members, and the strobe lights, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to hear them bust into a Bauhaus song (which would be killer, by the way).
Founding members Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein (both on vocals and guitar), and their current drummer, Angie Boylan, were joined by touring multi-instrumentalists Katie Harkin and Toko Yasuda, and their collective energy was ready to destroy.
There was no subtlety when that first song switched from its goth-y, heavy density to full-on rock.
The ferocity wasn’t lost on the crowd, who shared in the excitement of the dynamic. The initial intensity that led the set held its ground until the end of the night.
Part of what has always made the band exciting is the respectfully distinct vocals of both Brownstein and Tucker.
Both delivered their words last night with serious fuel. At times, Tucker ascended into operatic-level highs. When the pair sings simultaneously, though, that is the magic you can’t shake. It's heady and otherworldly.
The band didn’t do a ton of talking. With that many songs, there wasn’t a need or time for it. When they did speak, it put a brighter sheen on an already glowing picture.
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Brownstein thanked everyone for coming, adding that “it’s a great time in this country to show up and participate for the people that you love and for the politicians willing to dismantle justice. Get rid of anyone who doesn’t want to do that.” She encouraged everyone to “participate in small ways” to help the big picture and again thanked everyone for the support.
Tucker also offered her thanks to the crowd for their support throughout the night. The group looked happy to be together. Brownstein had a giant smile on her face more times than not. The longtime relationship between her and Tucker felt deep and sincere, especially during moments where they rocked their guitars as they rested their heads on one another’s shoulders.
They mixed up plenty of new songs among their classics. “Hurry Home,” “Reach Out,” “Ruins,” and “Love” were some of the tracks from The Center Won’t Hold. Some of the old faves that evoked excitement included “Dig Me Out” and “All Hands on the Bad One." Both critics and fans have had mixed feelings on these electro-inspired and, at times, more dance-inspiring tunes, but live they sounded like an interesting way for a band that’s been making music together for 25 years to evolve.
"The Center Won't Hold"
"Hurry On Home"
"The Future Is Here"
"Bury Our Friends"
"What's Mine Is Yours"
"One More Hour"
"Light Rail Coyote"
"Can I Go On"
"A New Wave"
"The Dog/The Body"
"All Hands on the Bad One"
"Dig Me Out"
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Last Night: Sleater-Kinney with Kaina at The Van Buren.
The Crowd: Serious fans who might have stayed for 24 more songs.
Overheard: Nothing about Portlandia, and that was a treat.
Random Notebook Dump: Short bleachers at the back of the crowd — thoughtful but ineffective.