Sleater-Kinney: Don’t Worry, They’ve Still Got It (Live at TLA)

“We’re punch-drunk and happy to fucking be here,” proclaims Carrie Brownstein Monday night mid-set from the stage of The TLA, the most intimate room Sleater-Kinney have played in the...

“We’re punch-drunk and happy to fucking be here,” proclaims Carrie Brownstein Monday night mid-set from the stage of The TLA, the most intimate room Sleater-Kinney have played in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection since their stop at The Starlight Ballroom in the summer of 2006, on their local farewell date of the band’s initial run.  It was also, somehow, the riot grrrl legends’ first time ever at the famous South Street haunt (Although they did play the far more intimate Pontiac Grille just a few doors down in 1997, about a month after their seminal Dig Me Out was released.)

The show at the 1,000-capacity venue (1/6th the size of the room they played in DC.) sold out instantly, although it certainly looked a little different from the shows of the band’s heyday.  Apparently the years of opening for their buddies in Pearl Jam changed the landscape of their fanbase pretty drastically, as the crowd seemed to be about 50% male… a sight that would’ve shocked during their years on Kill Rock Stars and headlining The Trocadero from ’97-’04.  But I suspect that’s fine with Carrie and Corin Tucker, who did always seem to be happily on the verge of transcending the riot grrrl scene and into the kind of over-the-top Rock N’ Roll of Bowie, The Who, and The Stones, albeit with an ideology always firmly planted in punk.

Much in the vein of peers Sonic Youth (longtime friends of Carrie and Corin), even into their years of headlining 1,000+-capacity rooms (including the years since their 2015 reformation), Sleater-Kinney have never pandered to the notion of a “greatest hits set.”  And their tour behind their 11th LP — Little Rope, which dropped January on Loma Vista and is arguably the band’s best work since 2005’s The Woods – was no exception, with the band churning out 9 of the album’s 10 tracks throughout the 90-minute, 24-song set.  Lead single “Hell” opened the show to a far-from disappointed crowd and New-Wave-pop-tinged second single “Say It Like You Mean It” felt perfect wedged between two legitimate classics during the four-song encore.

Unlike Sleater-Kinney’s last area appearance, which had them double-headlining the massive stage of The Mann with Wilco and ignoring any material prior to 2002’s One Beat (arguably their best album and their most seamless blend of punk and full-stop “rock”), the set did feature a modest sprinkling of tracks from their first five records, including “Slow Song,” off of their rarely played self-titled debut.  However, with more than 10 albums under their belt, no release got more than two entries, aside from Little Rope, 2019’s The Center Won’t Hold, and The Woods, the final album of their first go-round and often cited as their best work.  But it was nearly impossible to tell which era was the audience’s favorite.  Instead, it seemed more like the thirty-forty-and-fiftysomething riot grrrls and record store nerds were just grateful that the band had made it to the thirty-year mark, and a few young fans (including one exceptionally charming one by the soundboard) seemed ecstatic to just have the opportunity to be in the band’s presence.

“One More Hour,” “Start Together,” and “All Hands on the Bad One” were refreshing reminders of the group’s full-on punk years, but the explosive neo-glam of “Oh!” off of One Beat (coming in just third) could easily be considered the highlight of the main set (at least for the millennials…), and The Woods’ ineffably frantic “Jumpers” wasn’t far behind.   However, “Modern Girl,” The Woods’ ten-ton-truck of a ballad (whose lyrics provide the namesake for Brownstein’s memoir) — which came about 70 minutes in, prior to most recent single “Untidy Creature,” which closed out the main set, as handfuls of couples began to file out to relieve the babysitter – brought on a pleasantly calm, introspective, and tearful catharsis, which would go on to erupt during the encore…

It’s hard to say if it’s because the venue — packed-hip-to-hip for the majority of the night – finally allowed for breathing room as some made their way out, or the $12.10, 24 oz. PBRs were really starting to kick in, or that the anthems Sleater-Kinney kicked out in the late ‘90s and early aughts really are some of the most profoundly poignant of their generation (I suspect it’s mostly this one…), but after the band returned to the stage and Corin’s announcement that they would play four more songs from four different albums, the evening’s encore felt like everything everyone in the room could have possibly needed…

Prior to recent single and aforementioned “Say It Like You Mean It,” they kicked things off with the militantly (in every sense of the word) abrasive title track of One Beat, which serves as the prologue to nearly every millennial queer punk’s favorite commentary on “The Bush Years.”  Although the title track of Dig Me Out (the band’s first release for Kill Rock Stars and first to feature quintessential drummer Janet Weiss), one of the band’s briefest and most rambunctious anthems, has often ended shows, I have always thought that worked best as the penultimate portion of the night… as it did this Monday, when it preceded epic 2005 single, “Entertain,” a rail against the business of entertainment, most notably the music industry’s inclination to commodify all the types of rebellion that make history’s most profound and poignant sounds matter in the first place.

Of course, things are certainly a little different from the days at The Troc.  Janet’s been gone for just about half a decade and Carrie and Corin are on either side of 50, respectively.  The grrrls in attendance have far fewer late nights at punk shows and are (hopefully) now trying to fuck shit up from within some corner of “the system.”  The shows that once fit inside church basements now boast stage sets that could more-than-hold-their-own amidst summertime sheds.  The trio that once commanded the most memorable shows of our youth has been reduced to the original two and filled out with touring musicians to give everything a “more full” sound.  But Carrie and Corin’s dueling guitars and vocals still strike a special place in our souls that no other duo ever has.  And the songs remain great, reflecting the frustrations and joys of battling something that needs to be battled against.  And, at this point, I suspect they validate the lives that many of those in attendance have lived.  Is it punk and entertainment?  Yes.  Is it the best show the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection has seen this year?  Yes, definitely…

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.