The creative reinvention Sleater-Kinney undertook when joining forces with producer Annie Clark (AKA high conceptualist St Vincent) for their ninth album, The Center Won’t Hold, came at a cost. Longstanding drummer Janet Weiss announced her exit last summer, saying: “The band is headed in a new direction and it is time for me to move on.” But while the album’s wonky electronics and darkly offbeat pop sensibility marked an emphatic shift from their original minimalist punk aesthetic, it is still unmistakably the work of Sleater-Kinney – as tonight’s show attests.
Their ranks expanded by new drummer Angie Boylan and multi-instrumentalists Katie Harkin and Toko Yasuda, the band draw much of their electricity from the tension between the icy electronic elements and the furious punk essence. The ominous simmer of the latest album’s title track opens with Corin Tucker ditching her guitar for an electronic drum, but it’s the mid-song lunge into Nirvana-esque thrash that is its genius stroke. The sleek disco throb of Hurry on Home is lent a delicious edge by Carrie Brownstein’s cool rasp and wild guitar heroics. Meanwhile, an encore of Broken, with Tucker singing “She stood up for us when she testified” over Brownstein’s synth, feels especially resonant the day after the Harvey Weinstein verdict.
If these new songs stake out potent new ground for Sleater-Kinney, the rest of the set celebrates the primal perfection of their back catalogue: a fusillade of joyful, anguished nuggets marrying bone-simple riffs to guitars restrung with sinew and razorwire. One More Hour remains a sublime breakup song, a potent cocktail of yearning, betrayal and desperation. The searing stomp of What’s Mine Is Yours showcases the interplay between these two most distinct and well-matched vocalists, Brownstein’s rasp like a dirty switchblade, Tucker’s righteous holler like a car alarm that can sing gospel.
For all their intensity, tonight is cathartic and joyous, Brownstein shaking her hair, grinning from ear-to-ear and coining new classic axe-hero poses for herself, and Tucker giddily snatching the mic to lead the group through a nutty, inspired cover of Laura Branigan’s Gloria. And while tonight proves there’s more to Sleater-Kinney than just punk rock now, there are few who can beat them at that game.