I knew it was coming. About a year ago I was sitting round my friends house doing what we usually do; drink, eat and discuss our never-ending love for Sleater-Kinney. The evening was running as usual when out of the blue my friend hinted to me that they heard a rumour that Sleater-Kinney, the one and only, the triad, the reason I love a good tom solo, might be getting back together. What was I supposed to do with this information? I briefly considered flying to Portland, waiting at one of the many independent, organic, locally sourced cafes and waiting for them there to get a full answer but I knew in my heart that it would probably be taking my obsession too far.
Of course I only had to wait until late 2014 when the rumours were confirmed and Sleater-Kinney officially announced their return, a new album, No Cities to Love, and a slew of live dates. After almost a decade away the sheer amount of Sleater-Kinney on offer was almost too much to handle for me as it must have been for many fans. They were a lifeline for riot grrrls, queers and punks everywhere and now in a post riot grrrl world they’re more popular than ever. As a fan that only got into the band after they broke up how do you cope with the knowledge that you could get to listen to new material from your favourite band and also see them live for the first time. These were the thoughts that were racing through my brain as I walked through the doors of the Roundhouse to see the trio play for the first time.
Openers were PINS, a very hipster looking all female five piece who, to their credit, took on the huge task of opening for Sleater-Kinney and played like they were running the show. The lead guitarist posed and strutted and danced across the whole staged in a quasi Jagger-esque way that reminded me slightly of the brash pinwheels and jumps Carrie Brownstein exhibits as she plays. Sometimes there’s nothing better than seeing a woman who knows and wants you to know that she’s fully in control of her instrument.
Sleater-Kinney walked on stage, on time to the minute; they’re definitely a band that don’t like to mess about. Let’s do this. The band open with ‘Price Tag’, a song from their new record that sets the tone for the night. Sleater-Kinney are a band with a conscience and a message. Introducing ‘Gimme Love’ vocalist Corin Tucker states that for the band they think that things haven’t changed enough. Raising a fist she demands “gimme equality, gimme respect, gimme love”. A highlight of the night it showcased Tucker’s still stunning and utterly unique vocals. With the rise of Portlandia and Brownstein’s increasing fame there has been a tendency for journalists to switch their focus away from Tucker. A slight error in my opinion as Tucker showed us there still isn’t a powerhouse of a vocalist that could even consider taking her punk crown.
As the band treated us to a plethora of songs from their new album I realised that Sleater-Kinney are possibly the only reformed band that make you as desperate to hear the new songs as the older numbers. The crowds wild pogoing to new songs such as ‘Fangless’, ‘Surface Envy’ and ‘A New Wave’ proved the band’s critically acclaimed album was able to compete with their vast back catalogue. Along with the new songs the band picked out rare treats from their previous seven albums including ‘Oh’, ‘Youth Decay’ and crowd pleasers such as ‘Turn It On’ and ‘Modern Girl’; Sleater-Kinney’s version of a classic rock lighters-in-the-air number.
After years spent listening to Sleater-Kinney through my very bad laptop speakers it’s such a thrill to see them live in the flesh; not only to catch a glimpse of them but to hear their sound as it was meant to be. It’s pummeling; Corin’s voice lingers around in your ears, Carrie’s guitar sticks around in your gut and Janet powerful drumming gets you, well everywhere. That rhythm just gets you. At time’s it seems to wander from the song altogether like the beat is having a separate dance party of its own; rejoining after a while like it never left.
It’s during the older numbers that I notice how weirdly revolutionary Corin’s guitar playing was. Here she is playing to hundreds of people on a huge stage and she stands, defiantly and confidently strumming on just one string. That’s such a fuck you; to rock n roll standards and ideals. Who cares what you play or how you play as long as it sounds good and it does. Katie Harkin, frontwoman from Leeds-based Sky Larkin, does a great job of holding down the fort, accompanying the band on backing guitar and keyboard.
Determined to give the crowd as much as they physically could the band played a full set and then came back for an extended encore which included the intricate improv classic ‘Let’s Call It Love’. I don’t want it to end but it has to. As the last note of ‘Dig Me Out’ rings out the crowd erupted in cheers of jubilation and gratitude because they didn’t have to do this. They didn’t have to come back. They didn’t even have to make a good album, a mediocre one would have still got them as much press and attention. Sleater-Kinney aren’t just a good band; they’re a band that cares about what they put out into the world for old and new fans alike. I don’t think anyone could have walked away disappointed from that gig. I certainly didn’t.
If you didn’t get a chance to go, listen to their setlist below.