Punk Rock for Grown-Ups
All too often, punk rock is considered the province of young, angry boys and screaming girls. However, there are refreshing punk mainstays like Corin Tucker, who rose to fame (Rolling Stone called her a “punk rock heroine”) in Heavens to Betsy and Sleater-Kinney. Now she fronts the Corin Tucker Band, who has just released their second record, Kill My Blues. Full of songs spanning today’s political climate (the first single “Groundhog Day”), coming of age (“Neskowin”), and love (“Kill My Blues”), the record proves that Tucker, at age 40, can rock as hard as ever.
The show the band played September 14th at the seedy-but-loveable Cactus Club in Milwaukee, WI was no exception to the prowess of Tucker and her bandmates. Clad in a sparkly, white, angelic outfit, Tucker and the band took the stage at ten past midnight (after opening bands Holly and the Nice Lions and Pussy Collector). The setlist featured songs from the band’s first album, 1,000 Years as well as the new songs from Kill My Blues.
This show was only the second stop on the band’s tour, but they were in tight form, a testimony to the long, collaborative songwriting and recording process the band undertook on the making of the record. Deviating from the written setlist, the band opened with the title track from Kill My Blues, featuring Tucker singing, “There’s no medicine like the sound of your voice.” As they moved on to the next songs, the band’s chemistry became even clearer despite a lack of interaction or dialogue between them. Bassist Seth Lorinczi deserves a special mention for his rhythmic prowess.
Early on, the band played the first single from Kill My Blues, “Groundhog Day”, a song about how little the political climate towards women has changed in the past 20 years. The live version rocked even harder than the album recording and was a definite highlight of the show. Considering the record had not been released at the time of this concert, it was refreshing for the audience to hear a new song that was already familiar.
On “Half a World Away” (from 1,000 Years), drummer Sara Lund was in top form, delivering innovative percussion and creating a funky beat for the song.
For the first few songs of the show, the mixing of the sound was a bit off and Tucker’s vocals were somewhat muted. However, a few songs in, Tucker politely remarked to the sound technician that she was noticing some “guitar excess” and asked for that to be remedied. Fortunately, Tucker’s vocals were more prominent on the next song. The crowd seemed especially energetic as Tucker sang “Put your lipstick on / Make it your freshest face” on “Handed Love”. The band responded to the crowd’s vigor, growing with intensity. The next song was “Constance”, featuring Tucker and Lund sharing vocals. Tucker seemed more animated by now, but remained quite composed throughout the show, wearing a big smile as she played with the band. The band rocked through the next few tracks sans much banter until Tucker briefly reminded everyone to vote.
During the following songs, there was an impressive cacophony of sound that faded into Tucker’s trademark pipes, which she had previously perfected in Heavens to Betsy and Sleater-Kinney (though in Sleater-Kinney she sometimes played second fiddle—or should I say second guitar—to Carrie Brownstein, now famous for her work in Wild Flag and the hit TV show Portlandia). The lighting was surprisingly good for such a small venue and changed to illuminate Tucker at certain moments, such as one song which featured her singing in a falsetto-ish tone.
The last song of the main set showcased Tucker swinging her ponytail and jumping up and down, as well as encouraging the crowd to clap along to the music. At 1:01 AM, the main set ended and the audience was all too eager for an encore, which Tucker and company delivered in three songs, the last of which was a cover.
Throughout the show, Tucker proved that it takes talent to scream melodically, and also that a 40-year-old mother of two can still rock as hard as young punks. She and her bandmates also demonstrated a wider definition of punk as they experimented with the rhythm section, displaying innovative percussion and bass in addition to the intricate guitar work. Despite not knowing the newer songs, the audience left all smiles, just as Tucker did as she departed the stage, proving there’s no medicine like the sound of her voice.