Live Review: Sleater-Kinney with THEESatisfaction at Showbox at the Market 5/9/15

photos by Matthew B. Thompson (view set)

At every great concert, there’s a moment where everything, for lack of a better word, clicks. When the audience moves from excited to engaged, when “wow” turns “holy shit”. On the closing night of Sleater-Kinney‘s three-night stand at the Showbox at the Market, that moment was two-and-a-half minutes into the first song. It happened during the bridge of “Price Tag”, when the band’s guitars dropped into a bellowing lunge and Carrie Brownstein leveled the room with her inimitable snarl. And then that moment happened again during the opening riff of “Oh!”. And again during the moment on “Start Together” when Corin Tucker’s guitar and Janet Weiss’ drums crash into Brownstein’s wiry opening lick. And as the night went on, it kept happening. Every band has the capability to create one of these standout moments –usually it’s during their hits or when a band member dives into the audience – but it’s a rare occasion when a band and an audience keep volleying them back and forth for the entirety of the show. On the closing show of the tour behind their first album in a decade, the fantastic No Cities To Love, the rare combination of a intimate venue, a fully-attentive audience, and a band on fire came to be as the Pacific Northwestern legends reaffirmed their status as one of the finest bands to ever emerge from the region.



Although there are more female-led, S-K-indebted punk groups than ever at the moment, all of whom would probably give a kidney to open for the group, Carrie, Corin, and Janet picked a pair of female hip-hop artists to support them on tour. On the first leg, Lizzo took opening duties, and on the second leg, that responsibility fell to Seattle local staple THEESatisfaction. Stas and Cat are off the heels of a great recent album of their own, EarthEE, and they aired plenty of it to the sold-out room. In a stark contrast to the guns-blazing approach Sleater-Kinney would take an hour later, THEESatisfaction drew the audience in subtly, banking on the infectious grooves of their beats and Cat’s smooth vocals. It was the right move. Bathed in low lighting the duo’s calm, untouchable cool emanated throughout the room, grabbing each audience member’s attention right after the second they realized they were tapping their foot and bobbing their head to “QueenS”, “Planet For Sale”, “Recognition”, or any other of the spacey tunes they brought out. Placed in a scenario where they could have easy been overshadowed the audience’s fervent anticipation of the headliner, THEESatisfaction shined bright in a venue they may well headline in the near future.

It’s no longer a secret that when Sleater-Kinney played the Showbox at the Market in December 2005, they were falling apart. Touring behind the release of The Woods, the album that would serve both as a creative peak and their swan song for a decade, Tucker and Brownstein were shouting and slashing as furiously as ever onstage, but were struggling with anxiety and the strain of being away from her young son, respectively. To say the least, things are better now. During their ten years apart (as a band, the trio maintained active friendships with one other during the break), the band found personal and creative rejuvenation in a number of avenues, and although they still haven’t achieved the world domination Brownstein may or may not have been joking about when she proposed her goals for the band in a 1996 interview, they’re certainly the biggest they’ve ever been. The majority of their rapturously-received reunion tour has been sold out, and for good reason: they’ve still got the same fire that made them a tour de force for a decade. Weiss stayed active as a drummer in plenty of outfits during the break, so it’s no surprise that she remains an absolute monster behind the skins. Brownstein and Tucker’s musical efforts, however, were more intermittent during the break, so it’s a relief to know they still have the chemistry that fueled their on- and off-stage performances. Brownstein’s snarl is still a perfect foil to Tucker’s building-leveling howl, just as Tucker’s thick, rhythmic playing grounds Brownstein’s winding, frenetic lead playing. Throw Weiss into the equation and that still-present alchemy between the two frontwomen is what makes No Cities To Love, which made up the majority of the setlist, a worthy addition to their near-perfect discography.

The quality of those songs made the ninety-minute, twenty two-song setlist play out like a greatest hits of sorts. That being said, Sleater-Kinney don’t really have hits by any conventional definition, but they do have more than a few key tracks, and even though a few were always going to be left out – “Night Light” and “The Swimmer” were this writer’s pipe dreams – they covered nearly all eras of their discography with a mercenary sense of conviction. After a brief reprieve (read: no quieter, slightly slower five minutes) during “What’s Mine Is Yours” early in the set, the trio launched into an onslaught of their most relentless and best. (With S–K, those two categories overlap pretty frequently.) “The Fox”. “Words and Guitar”. “Get Up”. “Call The Doctor”. With barely any breaks in between, the non-stop execution of the songs would’ve been overwhelming if it wasn’t so stunning. When Brownstein kicked her mic stand after each verse of “Entertain”, it was a surprisingly good distillation of the night: Because the night felt far more like a celebration of Sleater-Kinney’s continuing excellence (and relevance) than a nostalgia trip, the gig was thrilling. For many in the audience, including yours truly, it was the first chance to see the band that had only been spoken of in breathless praise beforehand. (To be clear, if casual Sleater-Kinney fans even exist they were not in the room. As someone who has seen some amazing gigs at The Showbox, I’ve never seen it more electric than it was on Saturday night.) Sleater-Kinney’s greatest strength isn’t that they’re loud or fast or smart. It’s their uncanny ability to channel empathy in their music. On that Saturday night, and likely on every night of the tour, Sleater-Kinney took the sense of empowerment that they felt when they first picked up guitars last year and found that they still had the drive to produce something great and broadcasted it to every person in the room. For everyone who had been waiting ten years to sing “Modern Girl” with 1,000 other S-K devotees, it met the hype in every possible way. Even if the band’s unclear future ends up resulting in No Cities serving as their swan song, Corin, Carrie, and Janet are going out guitars ringing, drums blaring, legs high-kicking, and as Carrie noted during her only address to the audience, surrounded by people they’re supported by. As the statement of intent for the evening, and the band as a whole, it could be called cheesy, but instead, let’s call it love.

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