Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
Dressed in black, Sleater-Kinney kicked off their set at the Fillmore last night with the slow futuristic dirge of “The Center Won’t Hold,” the title track of their latest album. Here was the new, layered, and organized sound of Sleater-Kinney, sweethearts of the 90’s riot grrrl movement, almost 25 years after their debut. The songs from The Center Won’t Hold aren’t bad by any means, but next to the electric charge of Dig Me Out or The Hot Rock, they sound sort of tame and jaded — at least on the studio versions.
After the ominous industrial grind of “The Center Won’t Hold,” the band reverted back to the center of their best work with ear-splitting power chords and accelerating drum rolls in a burst of adrenaline they carried through the rest of their two-hour set. Sleater-Kinney infused the polished productions of the new material with their signature guitar grittiness, interspersing them with fan-favorites like “All Hands On The Bad One,” “Price Tag,” and the live debut of “Get Up,” sending the middle-aged crowd into a nostalgic near-mosh-pit frenzy.
Sleater-Kinney’s defiant live energy was impressive, considering that the power trio recently became a duo. Shortly before the release of The Center Won’t Hold in August, long-time drummer Janet Weiss announced her departure from the band, leaving co-leaders Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker rudderless. Given that Sleater-Kinney is a two-guitar band with no bass, the drums were what kept the guitar battles of Tucker and Brownstein in check, tethering them to a song’s core no matter how far they wandered. Janet Weiss left behind big shoes to fill, but somehow the impressive new hire Angie Boylan pulled it off, bringing fresh force to drum-heavy songs like “Entertain” and “Light Rail Coyote.”
Brownstein fed off this energy, hopping all over the stage and whipping her head in synchronization with the buzz of her guitar. Over and over, she would sidle up to Tucker across the stage in a friendly challenge, before unleashing her own crazed bone-rattling response of chords and notes that got her dramatically lifting her guitar with every new burst. The speaker-shredding volume level seemed to increase with every song.
Wrapped up in their own energy, Brownstein and Tucker didn’t speak much beyond exhorting the crowd to exercise their right to vote. “We hope that your plan is to vote Trump out of office,” Brownstein told the crowd, noting that volunteers were on hand to assist with voter registration. “If that’s not your hope, talk to anyone else here. I’m sure they can give you one to one thousand reasons to vote him out.”
Compared to Brownstein’s effusive, ambulatory stage presence, Tucker seemed a bit more restrained, remaining anchored to her microphone all night long. But Brownstein explained Tucker and the rest of the backing band’s relative stagnation with a frightful Portlandia-esque story of some spoiled kombucha they’d had at a local restaurant before the show. “All of us except Carrie ordered this kombucha,” Tucker said. “Someone has to fly the plane,” Brownstein responded.
Despite her kombucha-induced malaise, Tucker took the lead vocal on the band’s new single, “ANIMAL,” a song charged with a spooky sludge that channelled the foreboding power of Halloween’s imminent arrival. Dropping her guitar, Tucker tore her mic from its stand and danced around centerstage, rousing the crowd as Sleater-Kinney’s set drew to a close. Ending with a double encore that included new #MeToo song “Broken,” and early classics “Words and Guitar” and “Dig Me Out,” S-K gave the crowd everything they wanted and more, trading explosive guitar solos in the stop-motion flicker of strobe lights. — SOPHIE BURKHOLDER