17 Jan 2002: Great American Music Hall San Francisco
I looked over my right shoulder. Just behind me, a couple was sharing a PDA unashamedly to the hot music. Their jaws were moving in time as they embraced.
Rock should be like sex and make you want to fuck and that’s just what Sleater-Kinney does. They’re like a fast-forwarded Ronettes that chucked Phil Spector and know how to “do it” on their own and yell about the hypocrisy. Who needs the symphony when you have those angry-girl power chords and double vocal yelps from Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein right up front, plus Janet Weiss’ fast, sharp, circular drum beats backing it up, causing a riot on the dance floor and an audience full of happy hip grinding headbangers, overtaken by the spirits?
The power trio came out all Mr. Ladylike. Corin Tucker, with a loose pageboy do, was lovely in her ‘40s rayon blouse, brown with blue flowers, a low neckline revealing delicate cleavage and slits in the sleeves revealing her slender shoulder. The blouse was paired with a straight skirt. Hem length for the fashion-concerned? Just above the knee. Carrie Brownstein was slim and cute in a short bob, wearing white pants paired with a black sleeveless ‘70s librarian blouse featuring a smart bow at the high neck. Janet Weiss, with her infectious, engaging smile, sported a choker of large wooden beads and a sexadelic black lace bustier, just the thing to keep a lady cool during all those beat-heavy rockers. Janet is an athletic drummer.
One thing really striking about Sleater-Kinney is how comfy these chicks—oops, ladies—seem playing. That is, with each other, with their instruments, and with their songs. It’s just so natural. They are one tight band, with interesting changes in syncopation, rolling rhythms that make you swing your head, and fast tempos that have you jumping, all supporting their guitar-driven, angst-filled melodies and impassioned vocals, which could rouse the dead.
Off ‘96’s Call the Doctor they played “Little Mouth” as well as “I’m Not Waiting”. From the 1997 EP Dig Me Out they played “Not What You Want” and “Turn It On”. From 1999’s Hot Rock they played “Burn Don’t Freeze” and “Start Together”. Off their last album, 2000’s All Hands On The Bad One, the cuts they played were “Ironclad” and the title track.
Brownstein and Tucker “warned” the audience they’d be playing a bunch of new songs. There were moans of disappointment all around. Not! They played eight new numbers but didn’t give out names—the band was not ready to share the working titles, I later learned. These all rocked hard with a visceral edge, and they’re pretty, too. They make you want to jump and kiss and hug your friends around you, and also dance.
I was really bummed not to hear “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “All the Drama You’ve Been Craving.” Nonetheless, the show rocked hard and was pure punk-pop fun.
There were lots of cute dykes and straight girls, with mod short haircuts, lots of little Moe Tucker-looking girls, tall Annie Lennox-looking girls, and all kinds of Mr. Ladies, and more studded leather belts than you could count. Actually I tried, but after counting 25, I got bored. Organizers were gathering the troops for Ladyfest, a nationwide event upcoming this summer to be held at San Francisco’s Mission High School. Le Tigre has agreed to be the anchor band for this national event.
Shani Heckman, a local girl group promoter yelled in my ear, “Oh! This is the best song”! as the band went into high gear on their sixth number, “I’m Not Waiting”. She said she’s been following Sleater-Kinney’s music since their first release in ‘96, and that she’s seen them several times. “They’ve evolved from a dyke group to be a ladylike powerpop group”, said Heckman, “Their songwriting has gotten slicker. More people are into them now. They have a bigger audience. There are more and more guys at each show. But that’s okay”.
“I noticed that, too”, said Keith Kanoff, a staff member at The Great American Music Hall. “The guys are there because they dig the band. Sleater-Kinney are such professionals—they’re so tight and put on such a good, solid show. There was a great vibe in the Hall all three nights—everyone was having a great time”.
The Tuesday night that I saw them, the house was packed, even though Sleater-Kinney was playing three dates. Typically, touring indie bands play a single night at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, the City’s most elegant independent rock club. One minute you can be moshing and the next, looking up at the beautiful rococco ceiling frescoes of half-dressed rubinesque ladies in retirement. The Hall was originally built as a swank French restaurant, brothel and gambling establishment in 1907 after the 1906 earthquake that devastated San Francisco. Club management says it is the city’s oldest nightclub. More than one rock chick—or, ahem, lady—has averred she wouldn’t mind having a wedding ceremony in the space.
There was almost no friendly banter between songs—just pure playing (although Brownstein did thank the audience for their spirit)—Sleater-Kinney did say they’re putting out a new album in March. Kill Rock Stars confirmed this and said that, actually, the band will go into the studio in March but the new album, as yet untitled, will be released in September or October 2002. Over email, I asked the band if they had a new direction for the upcoming record. Their answer: “The new direction for the album is to not have a specified direction for the album”. Hey, sounds good! Let those creative juices flow, girls.
// Notes from the Road
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