Mercury Lounge must be sold out, it is really packed, as crowded as it was for Ed Sheeran earlier this year, so I decide to buy a tee-shirt before the show and skip the scrimmage later on. The two women who serve me are very sweet, help me make the right choice and I leave and push my way to the front of the stage before I double back and tell one of the retailers. "I just want to take this opportunity to thank for one of the best concerts I've ever seen. You were opening for Guided By Voices at Summerstage." She thanks me and nods to her friend, "Yes, I remember that one."
Fifteen years after the gig, maybe she remembered the show because it was so good, or maybe because it was 3pm on a cloudless summer day, to a full to capacity Rumsey Field, a day after the Village Voice (back when it mattered) had compared her band favorably to the Clash. The band had released two masterpieces back to back, Call The Doctor and Dig Me Out, and had all the confidence in the world. They were completely devastating. It was 1997 and I remember sometime rock nyc scribe Robert Nevin turning to me with a glazed look on his face. "Were they really that great?" I asked him. "They were really that great", Nev replied.
The band was Sleater Kinney, of course, and an hour later, the woman who, along with her drummer Sara Lund, had sold me the Tee, Corin Tucker , would be performing a superbly modulated hard rock set. It isn't true that SK were not complete pros, they might have had a punk aesthetic at the outset, but pretty soon they realized, that they gained a lot more through rigorous manipulated power. Corin still knows the lesson, even as her singing has, if anything, improved.
Using the set to delve deep into the Corin Tucker Band's new album, Kill The Blues, a distilled portrait of the artist as a married mommy, Corin was both restrained and overwhelming. Before the opening song, "Summer Jam" was over, Corin was shredding her guitar and perhaps the one big difference bandwise is how her guitar is front and center now. Seth Lorenzi was also in the line-up, and if they don't substitute for Carrie Brownstein, between the two of them they assure that it doesn't hurt.
The set is both propulsive and restrained, the band are having a blast but Corin seems to be holding back a little. We could have used that scream of hers a little more often. The set didn't lack for momentum, none of it was not good, but it seemed to cruise along too easily. Corin has one of the great rock and roll voices, and in the tiny confines of Mercury Lounge (she could have filled the Bowery Ballroom easy), you would think she'd nail the door shut on us, but it isn't till late in the set with "Joey" that she really soars through. As a band, the rhythm section, that is Dave Depper on bass and Sara, while good enough, need a few more gigs, and where you'd expect the holes to be, the guitars, simply isn't bad at all. The break up of SK meant Wild Flag play better, but CTB has better material and a better lead singer. That may well be knee jerk, but it isn't till the end of the set they prove me wrong.
But even if they are a touch withdrawn, there are no dead spots. The second song, title track of the newbie "Kill The Blues" is pretty damn good, an early contender for highlight of the night. And while, admittedly, only an hour long set, there is no mid set lull either. However, even contender for song of the year, "Groundhog Day" doesn't ignite the way it might. Stuck mid set instead of opening song (where it belongs) or late set drive (where it wouldn't be wasted), they bury one of their finest moment, I almost missed the opening salvo: "Ha! Que Pasa…"
I said it didn't lack for momentum, and it didn't. Towards the end, "I Don't Wanna Go" and especially "Joey" cut the recorded versions, and on "Joey", Corin's vocals are so strong you get the sense she has been holding out on us, you don't get that on "Constance". Better still is the set proper closer "Doubt". The best song off her debut album, is sexier than hell: "A sinner walked down the street , I fell for him I fell complete" Corin sang and the band vamped and with that false end, the energy level was pushed sky high. At that precise moment, TCTB blew away SK memories, they came into their own. Particularly Sara Lund who has the not even vaguely enviable role of replacing one of rocks great drummers. Complaining that Sara isn't Janet Weiss is like complaining that Zak Starkey isn't Keith Moon. It is baiting her. And Corin is not a simple songwriter, her tempos throw you way way off. Sara kept pace, which is what her job is, but towards the end she began to make the pace.
The encore was Blondie's "Atomic" and if ever you wanted a song to check the pulse of a band, here it was. Disco from a rock band when it first emerged, and so it remains, which means my caveat about the rhythm section might need rethinking. And though the song itself is outside Corin's singing comfort zone, she was terrific as well.
Corin is like the Paul McCartney of riot grrrls. Whatever she does, there is a huge shadow and she can't get out from under it. And unlike Wild Flag, she is really starting from scratch. Not just the band, but the life itself, and she is doing it while we watch. It is really simple: Kill The Blues is a fabulous rock and roll snapshot of Corin's life in motion. It improves on the first album not because it rocks harder but because the songs are better. On stage, the band seemed a little reticent although, come to think of it, the album was two days old so we didn't know a lot of the material.
As I leave Mercury Lounge, Corin Tucker is already back behind the table hawking her tee-shirts. How many stars of Corin's stature, and my admiration for her body of work (not to mention haircut) is just about boundless, would be doing that? Ha, que pasa? Everything is good.
Rocky Kramer will be hosting “Rocktober” on this week’s episode of Rocky Kramer’s Rock & Roll Tuesdays on Twitch. Tune into Twitch on Tuesday, October 4th, at 7 PM PT for this amazing show. Rocky Kramer is a guitar virtuoso, often being compared to the greatest guitar players in the world. Rocky has performed on…