Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sleater Kinney, Albert Hall Manchester 24th March 2015 9.5/10

I'd resigned myself to ever being able to experience Sleater Kinney live: they declared an indefinite hiatus in 2006 and played a farewell show in Portland that summer. In consolation, I caught a date in 2012 for the short lived side project Wild Flag. So when the legendary punk trio announced not simply a reunion, but a new album and tour date at one of my favourite venues in Manchester, I was ecstatic. Stereogum named SK the greatest living rock band earlier this year, and emerging from the riot grrrl movement, their ideological and political influence cannot be underestimated. Yet, inspiringly, last night pointed to the future rather than reflecting on past glories. Sleater Kinney's passion hasn't diminished: referring to equality, Carrie exclaimed: 'not enough has changed yet' and the set opener Price Tag from their 2015 album rails against consumerism, The choice of PINS as support act is also joyously forward thinking: from the first time I saw them, supporting Veronica Falls in 2012, it was evident they were the most promising recent band to emerge from Manchester. I couldn't have been happier to hear they'd secured a support slot for their heroes SK, and they're on the cusp of a significant breakthrough.

PINS' Twitter feed suggested they were as excited as me to be in the audience for Sleater Kinney, and their stagecraft appears to have been influenced by Carrie Brownstein's in particular, as they commanded one of the largest venues they've played to date. Their music though, has now taken on wider influences, with the temporary replacement of one band member and addition of another. Anyone unfamiliar with PINS was set for an awakening: with the imminent release of their second album they'll surely be headlining this venue in the near future. By comparison, Sleater Kinney are the finished, polished article, but their 100 minute set felt anything but routine. As Carrie said, 'If we're gonna do this, it's gotta be a total renewal. All or nothing.'  There was little time for between song chatter last night, just a torrent of incredibly taught, concentrated energy. To my surprise, despite the divergence in musical style, I was constantly reminded of my hero, St Vincent. For all its exuberance, Sleater Kinney has a similarly disciplined sense of self control, and a technical virtuosity to compares to Annie Clark's, with intricate guitar work and tight ensemble.

Much has been written about the interplay between the two leads, Carrie and Corin, and their close (briefly romantic) bond. They face each other to riff together, and the chemistry is evident. Yet, I was also struck by the divergence in their persona on stage: Corin the more reserved, whilst Carrie revels in her high kicks and wind-milling arms, constantly on the move. This reflects the development of an aspect of her personality which has also found expression in her acting career in Portlandia. As Carrie explained: 'When I started... I was pretty shy as a performer, I didn't really do that much in the band beyond play. As time went on, I was able to express myself, to get a sense of myself as larger than who I was.' Janet Weiss' contribution is equally pivotal: like Warpaint's Stella Mozgawa, she's a powerful, virtuoso instrumentalist with unrelenting energy. The entire evening was such a visceral experience, more immediate than Warpaint's more impressionistic tone, and devastating in its impact.

I was mesmerised by Corin's vocal prowess: her vocal style is astonishing, intentionally harsh to demand attention from the listener, but also incredibly accurate.  The set list included the majority of the tracks from the universally acclaimed No Cities To Love, whose brevity also gave opportunity for a wide ranging exploration of their back catalogue. I gained less sense of the venue's aesthetic beauty than usual, as my field of vision was filled by the stage, but the lighting design was commensurate with the excellence of the production. The atmosphere was also fuelled by the enthusiasm of the audience, who were fully aware of the auspicious nature of the occasion and were whipped up into a frenzy of furious tempi. A highlight was the encore Modern Girl, a rare moment of melodic reflection when Janet downed her drum sticks to play the harmonica. I expect to remember the time I was able to experience SK from such close quarters for years to come. Perhaps surprisingly, when the music at first appears so uncompromising, the dominant emotion was one of collective joy, not anger: the happiness and sense of freedom on the faces of Carrie, Corin and Janet inspire much hope.

Price Tag
Get Up
Surface Envy
What's Mine Is Yours
A New Wave (euphoric)
One Beat
No Cities to Love
Start Together
Light Rail Coyote
No Anthems
Words and Guitar
Bury Our Friends
One More Hour

Gimme Love
I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone
Let's Call It Love
Modern Girl
Dig Me Out

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