The Powerstation, Auckland
Monday, February 29
There was a feeling, definitely, that it was just good to be there – to see them. Whatever happened it was going to be okay…this was palpable right from the energised, well-meaning and ultimately very good opening set from Wellington’s Mermaidens.
When Sleater-Kinney took to the stage (“jetlagged out of our minds” as Carrie Brownstein put it, “to play for you in the MIDDLE of the evening”) it was to deliver a set that nodded to nostalgia but surged forward always.
The opening brace from No Cities To Love set the tone, reminded anyone even vaguely doubtful that Sleater-Kinney, after 10 years between albums, wasn’t touring to just play the old hits; No Cities is a perfect continuation of the aims and ambitions of the band.
Corin Tucker’s voice is remarkable – she ushers everything from a sly whisper to a scream, she shouts in tune, she owns the emotion of songs written 20 years earlier when performing them still. No mean feat. Brownstein’s voice is now even more of a cartoon element at times, that hiccupping Patti Smith effect, the herky-jerky post-punk/riot-grrl feel. Her vocals manage to transcend any gimmick though, a counterpoint always to Tucker. They throw vocals back and forth, like jugglers catching blind. They throw vocals back and forth just as they do lead guitar lines. They finish each other’s sentences, they talk over top of one another, they find new ways to say the same things, they never quite ever repeat themselves.
What’s most significant about seeing Sleater-Kinney lay it down on the stage is that if rock’n’roll had never been invented you have to figure these people would have still found each other and this sound. This combination exists in its own time, space and sphere. You can’t say that about too many musicians – but there’s just something in the way they own the stage that tells you this was never about fame, money or any ambition other than to exorcise personal demons and to connect with people; the catharsis of writing, recording and then performance.
Janet Weiss is the powerhouse of the band – her no-frills precision playing at the kit anchors this group. She’s perfect. Every time. Never over-zealous, always on. She is the glue that allows Brownstein and Tucker to enact their version of the duelling guitars.
Brownstein is performance-art, toe-heel shuffling across the stage, a dip of the hand, her body practically pouting, her guitar kicks signal Corin Tucker’s guitar licks – it’s almost as if we see the imaginary line being passed between them. Tucker is more furrowed brow, working at her guitar to loosen the knot of sound. They stalk each other in a demented guitar-Tango.
In fact, as Sleater-Kinney constantly serves up huge anthemic joy (Oh! from One Beat, Ironclad from All Hands On The Bad One, What’s Mine Is Yours from The Woods, the title track from No Cities) it’s a chance to finally see these songs as much as just hear them. Tucker and Brownstein busy themselves at the guitars, building songs from the riffs they’re able to unpick; tightly coiled at first, both the joy and craft of each song is revealed as we see both guitarists stitching together the new sound from threads revealed.
The Woods remains the band’s masterpiece – and though we are treated to material from across the catalogue, further highlights including Youth Decay (All Hands), One More Hour (Dig Me Out) and Bury Our Friends (No Cities), it is the songs like Jumpers, The Fox and encore Modern Girl which shine brightest, mercurial, more grunt, slightly weirder, always sharper.
So often when a band is on stage you look for comparisons, if the band isn’t making them itself, but when Sleater-Kinney was on the stage nothing else mattered. It was as if, for that vital 90 minutes, that nothing else had been written, no other songs, no notes of substance. Just this bottled lightning.
You can’t ask for more than that right? Well, I certainly won’t be.
You can check the full setlist here