Road-Honed Sleater-Kinney Rocks Hard at House of Blues

Concert Review

Although Sleater-Kinney's 2015 tour schedule didn't route the band to Cleveland until last night, it's clear that delay was to the city's advantage. The trio—guitarists/vocalists Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker and drummer Janet Weiss—sounded completely amazing last night at the House of Blues, a road-honed, roaring rock band completely in sync with each other musically. You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here

The 90-minute set started with the "Price Tag" and "Bury Our Friends," both of which come from the group's latest album, No Cities To Love. The latter song in particular gained power and volume as it progressed, with Brownstein karate-chop kicking her leg for emphasis. From there, the show just kept steamrolling forward –with early highlights being the grungy blues of "Light Rail Coyote," a howling, cascading "Surface Envy" and a thunderous "Jumpers."

To augment some of their more layered new music, Sleater-Kinney have been touring with Sky Larkin's Katie Harkin, who's adding keyboards, extra percussion and guitars to songs. Her contributions were particularly on point last night during "Fangless," which featured blocky keyboard accents, and a vigorous, energetic take on "A New Wave"—dedicated by Brownstein to "our littlest fan, Tina—she's very sweet." Harkin subtly left the stage when the band dipped into older material; standouts last night included an insistent "Turn It On," surging "All Hands On The Bad One" and a boomeranging "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone."

Even better was "What's Mine Is Yours." The song featured an extended snaky, sludgy guitar intro from Brownstein, which gave way to a raucous mid-song guitar duel with Tucker and expressive vocals–the latter emoting like a cabaret soul singer, and Brownstein conjuring a gruff blues artist. The marching "Let's Call It Love" was another slow-burning, roiling gem, which featured Tucker's frenzied strumming, and Brownstein jumping up on the drumkit and playing her guitar for several minutes.

What stood out during the show was the band's effortless musical precision. Sleater-Kinney songs have a lot of overlapping moving parts, and these vocal lines, guitar melodies and drumbeats often need to coalesce at just the right moment to work. But during "One Beat"—a song with clipped beats and whooping vocals—and "One More Hour," which boasted an underbelly of girl-group vocals, these different elements never fought for attention or clashed with one another; each part fit together like jagged puzzle pieces.

This is certainly a testament to the individual members of Sleater-Kinney, and their musical chemistry and talents. Weiss generates her own energy source she's such a powerful, forceful drummer, but also has impeccable timing: During "What's Mine Is Yours," she put her head down on the drumkit during one of the guitar hurricanes, and jumped right back in with ease when time. Tucker held down stage left with her intricate, corrugated guitar rhythms and nuanced vocals—which ranged from burnt-sugar wails and urgent howls to pop-leaning stair-stepping. During "Entertain," she and Weiss even leapt into the chorus with wordless "whoa-oh-oh"s, serving as a spiky, pointed counterpart to Brownstein's forceful, almost snarling verses.

And Brownstein showed off plenty of jaw-dropping lead guitarist moves, from the occasional windmill to distortion-crackled, heavy, badass rock and roll leads. Appropriately, "Entertain" ended with her holding the instrument over her head, as if she was showing off a boxing title belt. (Of course, Brownstein's stage moves could also be subtle: The end of "Fangless" found her balancing herself on one leg for well over a minute, with the other tucked toward her, as if she was a flamingo.)

To start the encore, the band performed a spirited, appropriately raucous (and fun!) cover of the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)" with Brownstein on lead vocals. Fan favorite "Call The Doctor" led right into a thrashing version of "Dig Me Out," which spawned much pogoing. However, the night ended with a cool down: The understated, folk-like "Modern Girl," which had the entire crowd singing along loudly to the lyrics. 
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