Sleater-Kinney At Hammerstein Ballroom, Thursday, October 31st, 2019, Reviewed
Sleater-Kinney are overrated and they deserve to be based upon their strong, though not great set, at Hammerstein Ballroom on Halloween. Take a look at their recorded work:
Sleater-Kinney (1995) – B+
Call the Doctor (1996) – A
Dig Me Out (1997) – A+
The Hot Rock (1999) – B
All Hands on the Bad One (2000) – B
One Beat (2002) – B-
The Woods (2005) – B+
No Cities to Love (2015) – B+
The Center Won’t Hold (2019) – C+
Except for that mid 1990s albums, they’ve always been very good. They are very good. Interlocking guitars, with quirked out, angular guitar parts, the three piece band was a groovy fucker rock star post-punk trio of headbanging, gender bending, queer proud, innovators. They were to queer women what the Sex Pistols were to the unemployed, an emblem, a semblance, and at their peak, say the Central Park gig in 1997, they deserved Robert Christgau’s comparison to The Clash. Yes, folks, there was a time when Sleater-Kinney was the only band that mattered.
That was over twenty years ago, they broke up, reformed, released an album, toured, released an overextended snooze of an album, lost their drummer, and returned as a still angular, still exciting, maybe less structured, looser, and not quite as good five piece lead by Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker. With, at least, their reputation on the line in the never forgiving New York City, they performed to a maybe two thirds full room of flat out adoration bent fans, heavy lesbian (but not only lesbian) contingent as though the fate of the world, or at least the next general election, lay in their grasp.
The set was a solid, rock stars at work, 28 songs behemoth (which still managed to blow off “No Cities To Love”). There were no real surprises, except I had missed “Love” on the new album and it sounded great -it was the single they passed on.and shouldn’t have. Pushing The Center Won’t Hold with all their might, the St. Vincent album adding complexities on songs that were not as good as they should have been, they performed the entire album before the two hours plus were through. Both women in miniskirts, and Carrie a raucous stage presence and Corin who -come to think of it,was was better solo (here), but in a witch’s hat she was a bewitching presence. Midway through the evening, Corin and Carrie started picking out Halloween outfits (“don’t move from there” Carrie warned a woman in a clown costume), and the break personified the new SK’s mix of friendliness for the folks with their hands on the good one.
It was a good natured, enjoyable, career ranging show, capped by “Call The Doctor” and “Dig Me Out” to end it all. The audience were joyful, and, since I could actually see them, they were much better than the T5 gig five years ago. Corin’s voice scrapes, Carrie’s voice careens, Corin holds down the bass parts on rhythm guitar, Carrie is attuned to the hook, the rest of the band are there for color, even the drummer, and, really,, they need Janet Weiss. But, the jam songs (yes, you read me right), the songs off The Woods, were really not what they needed to be doing. Meanwhile, the new album has only three songs that should even be in the set, and yet, every other song was something not really worth the intelligence and intensity they were putting into it.
Sleater-Kinney couldn’t pull greatness out of good songs, they are too serious, too musos, too given to growing. Overrated, but still rated, I wish they’d reconsider their setlist.