Friday, February 27, 2015

Fall Down on the World: The Music of Sleater-Kinney, Pt. 8--Start Again While Unsteady Still

1/20/15

Don't know what you had till it up and left your ass one day.  Then it returns, on some Jedi steez, and you swear up and down that never ever will you take Sleater-Kinney for granted again, not their music, not their message, not the irony in such a proud all-female band being produced by a dude with the last name Goodmanson, you are different now and you know better.

Tricky thing is, so are they.

"Price Tag"--Economic woes lead but to self-cannibalization.  The drums are steady, strong, unshakable.  But that's standard S-K:  the foundation doesn't collapse, you collapse upon the foundation.

Mama Corin is mindful, but on the other side is Carrie, worrying mostly for herself by herself.  Unluckily for us all, life in these 21st-century United States ain't the goddamn Pain and Suffering Olympics.  No gold medals for the procreating competitors, no podium spot for the creating competitors, no nothing but more "no"'s.

"Fangless"--Fans of Sharon Gless?  That's what I've taken away from this song, which features some sweet Janet backing vocals.  If Sleater-Kinney were Cagney & Lacey, Carrie would be the ambitious Cagney, while Corin would be the family-first Lacey.  Janet would be over on Hill Street Blues, which was a much better 80s cop show.

"Surface Envy"--That the band has lost none of their individual or collective acerbity is the biggest reason that No Cities To Love not only works, but works harder longer faster stronger than any other clock-punchers going.   They're not dishing out, they're breaking plates, 'cause the planet is fucked...or it is if people don't dig deeper for some substance pride.

"I feel so much stronger/Now that you're here/We've got so much to do/Let me make that clear!"  Scratch.  Scratch.  Scratch.

"No Cities To Love"--The first real "Carrie" song.  Brownstein loves the feel of the words in her mouth, rolling over under and around her tongue, sticking to the palate and lodging in between most of her teeth.  The verses are brick and mortar, the chorus is fiberglass and plaster.

The city is only what you make it.  But others have made it before you.

"A New Wave"--Ever feel compelled to go all No Wave in life, just throw your arms around the nihilistic impulse, hurling your soul in the direction of the nearest black hole?  All the avarice, all the destruction, all the deterioration, all the goddamn time, all paths lead but to the grave.

A new wave is even scarier, because it represents continuation.  Oblivion is the greatest freedom.  Obscurity is the bitterest freedom.

"No Anthems"--Oh my darling elephantine.

The bread has hardened, but Corin layers it edge to edge with honey.

"Gimme Love"--The album's shortest song is also arguably its most divisive.  Love, lust, lasciviousness, lollipops...every "L" word that sends the brain and body into paroxysms, you can hear it inside "Gimme Love."  The listeners who aren't repulsed by earnest pleas may just place this one near the top.  Those fans who wanna earn their pleasures may feel differently.

That blue Slushee-infused instrumental break kinda has something for everybody, though.

"Bury Our Friends"--Remember those idols we killed years ago?  Time to bring 'em back up, McGarrity.

Carrie's impatience is by turns endearing and infuriating.  She's never as righteously pissed as Corin, but she always collects each stone as she overturns them.

"Hey Darling"--Lita Ford, riot grrrl?  Well, she was a Runaway.  And she used to fuck Tony Iommi.  I've never banged anybody missing a part of a finger before.

Fame!  Anybody can fly; try learning how to land.  Oh, and there are no thresholds on the runway.  FYI. 

"Fade"--All that yelling, an avalanche is inevitable.  What gets top honors on the death certificate, blunt force trauma or hypothermia?

After nine songs of life screaming up and down lush fields, death rounds things out.  The investigator returns to the days-old crime scene.  She stands stock-still, shuttering up the clutter inside of her inquisitive mind, beseeching the spirit to reach out to her, into her, to tell her who it was that wrenched their corporeal form from this realm. 

"The end."

It may just be.




Flock Rock: Sleater-Kinney at the 9:30 Club, 2/24 and 2/25

Patrick tends to be on top of things, while I tend to be on the bottom of them.  Thus, the responsibility of procuring tickets to Sleater-Kinney's gig at DC's venerable 9:30 Club fell into his lap.  And when those tix sold out in one hour, more or less, necessitating the addition of a second show the following night, he purchased those as well.

Patrick does not always stay on top of things.  Occasionally he deems it restful to descend from the peak and snuggle with the rest of us in the mediocre middle.  But soon enough, the clarion call will tickle his cochlea and once more he ascends, more heaving upward than any fanciful climb with ropes and carabiners.  "I'm coming to pick up you a week early," he informed me, and while I would love to tell you (and myself) that the reason for his haste was an aching desire to be in close proximity to my warm glowing warming glow, the rush was inspired by nature conspiring to dump on us.  The meteorological whiz-kids on local TV actually underestimated the impact on the DC Metro Area; some places ended up covered in a full foot of snow.  Hanging with Patrick and his pops in Montgomery County, I watched as "only" eight inches piled up outside the gorgeous expanse they call a mere "yard," and wondered at my use of quotation marks.  My mind marveled at the sights, but my body shivered at the sensations. Temperature extremes are a chore for most anyone to endure, but thanks to a chronic circulation issue, the record lows were utter agony for me.  Even as I increased the layers and bundled the blankets tighter, even as the logs burned in the fireplace under the auspices of a retired firefighter and various vents blew out hot air...I still felt like polar bear balls.

THE BEFORE

By the 24th--the night of the first Sleater-Kinney gig--temperatures were still low enough that Siri made that annoying "BRR!" when asked for the exact number but the roads were clear of ice and the skies held not a single threat.  Such situations are when my English pals would say, "Result!"

By the 25th--the night of the second Sleater-Kinney gig--temperatures were still low enough that Siri made that annoying "BRR!" when asked for the exact number but the utterance was curtailed, an indication that one need not wear three layers of clothing just to go outside and grab the mail. 

Nearly two years had passed since our last jaunt to the 9:30 Club:  May 13, 2012, to be precise, when we stayed just long enough to watch Lee Ranaldo and band open up for M Ward.  Other than trips to see live shows, U and V aren't streets we have reason to visit regularly.  Our loss, genuinely.  Even as much has changed, much has obstinately refused to change, and it is in this way the capital of America most acutely serves as a microcosm for the nation at large. 

Patrick travels to the 9:30 Club via Georgia Avenue, a main arterial road that takes us from small suburban life in Olney to an especially dense area of the much-livelier Silver Spring, on to one of the most scattered sections of DC and then U Street, an exemplar of gentrification.  In many ways, the rougher area of DC we pass through appeals most to me.  One gleaming building with obscenely wide windows here, seven dilapidated storefronts there.  Somehow the Ethiopian-Tex Mex cafe on the corner being watched over by the HIV-positive man who hasn't changed clothes in two weeks (but will, as soon as he gets the nickel) doesn't offend any of my sensibilities, but that new Wal-Mart?  Gross.

Ah well.  I was still able to peer out the window and count four munch-houses with signs boasting of their proficiency in at least four distinct types of food.

One gigantic change that we had not been privy to struck us right as Patrick turned onto V Street.  The Atlantic Plumbing Building that had stood at 8th and V for years had been razed and construction begun on a new apartment complex, a monolith next to the humble club.  Apparently the condos will welcome their first residents this spring.  All I'll say in this space is that the look is very modern.  And that when you are basically homeless--as I am--revulsion is an inescapable reaction.

One reason these shows mattered, then:  to staunch, however relatively briefly, the flow of toxins between my brain and the rest of my body.

Another change:  the 9:30 Club has started letting early arrivals in via their Back Bar.  Instead of hours spent lined up against the unforgiving brick, thirty lucky folks get to get their hands stamped and wait in the warmth, and maybe even create their own at the bar.  Patrick and I are almost always up for the jolly juice--he's of Irish ancestry, and my parents were both born and raised in Kentucky, meaning my blood type is Bourbon--but the nerves were too much.  Soon down, soon up, or at least that was the worst-case scenario.  Besides, The Simpsons Movie was playing on the mounted TV!  Alaska!

The second night was different.  Our bodies had been shaken up in the most pleasant ways by the previous night, and a much-savored drink (cider for Patrick, beer for me) would not only be harmless, but actually rather beneficial.  Also, the TV was off. 

THE SHOWS

You gotta love how I bold these headers, you can just jump right to the part you're most likely to care about!

From the Back Bar, it was two short flights of stairs (and the appropriately stickered/markered walls) then a quick left, and there we were.  The entrance to floor of the greatest place to see a rock show, full stop.  Both nights, we ended up at the far left end of the long metal railing--"side Carrie," to those who know. 

Sober as a bird draped in black robes for the first show, I couldn't beat back that roiling admixture of excitement and dread in my gut.  Patrick picked up on my vibe--sharing it to the degree that he did--and remarked that while the 75-minute wait for opener Lizzo seemed long, it would be nothing compared to the two-and-a-half hours that we were forced to stand around waiting for Devo to take the stage back in 2005.  Yep.  Doors opened up at 7.  No acts beforehand.  Devo onstage at 9:30.  And we did that two straight nights. 

But, we caught part of Bob Casale's Hazmat suit later in their suit, so it evened out.

Goddamn did Sleater-Kinney pick the perfect opener.  When I think "Minneapolis hip-hop," I think Atmosphere, AKA Slug on the mic/Ant on the beats, all heartfelt and introspective, and while Lizzo can be accurately described with those two adjectives, she is so much more.  Wild-haired and outsized, like to the point where I'm sure she not only does not possess an "indoor voice" but if anyone even dared suggest you adopt one she'd shove a package of Pepperidge Farm Milanos up their ass, she took the stage alongside DJ Sophia Eris and drummer Ryan McMahon, peppering her sound with impure funk and pure soul.  Big beats, bigger rhymes. 

Her set remained fairly unchanged one night to the next, causing her on the second night to beseech us repeat customers to resist spoiling her act:  "I'm like M. Night Shymalan in this bitch!"  But how could I complain about anyone who warms up by blaring Gossip, Runaways, and Le Tigre?  (And oh yeah, "Rebel Girl.")  Sure, sure, I could bitch about being front row and still not getting any cookies thrown my way during "Batches and Cookies" (which Patrick legendarily misheard as "Bitches and Cookies") but you know what?  That does not matter.  What does matter, as the proudly "humanist" Lizzo reminded us midway through her incendiary and indelible set, are "all lives" in general and "black lives" specifically.  Her crowd control is impeccable; when she requested all cell phones out and lit up for her finale, she didn't have to ask twice.  She did...but she really didn't have to.

Lizzo proved the perfect act to lead into Sleater-Kinney.  She loosened our limbs, stretched our mouths, and...well, our minds were already opened coming in, we're all Sleater-Kinney fans after all.  What we needed was to have our anxieties allayed, our bodies protected against any sudden physiological revolt...and that's what happened.  (Save for those souls sensitive to the effects of strobe lighting.  Yikes.)

National Public Radio were on hand to livestream the first show, and I'd be hard-pressed to claim they documented either the greater or the lesser of the two performances.  Sleater-Kinney blessed the DC faithful with 23-song setlists for each night, which just so happens to be the same number of counties in the state of Maryland, soo...take that, Virginia!  DC is so clearly ours!

2/24                                                                                  2/25
Price Tag                                                                          Price Tag
Start Together                                                                  Get Up
Fangless                                                                           The End of You
Oh!                                                                                   Turn It On
Surface Envy                                                                   No Anthems
Get Up                                                                             Surface Envy
Ironclad                                                                            Little Babies
No Anthems                                                                     No Cities To Love
Youth Decay                                                                    Hey Darling
What's Mine Is Yours                                                      Light Rail Coyote
A New Wave                                                                   Bury Our Friends
No Cities To Love                                                           One Beat
One Beat                                                                          A New Wave
Words and Guitar                                                            Youth Decay
Bury Our Friends                                                            Words and Guitar
Sympathy                                                                        Good Things
Entertain                                                                          Jumpers
Jumpers                                                                           Dig Me Out

ENCORE                                                                        ENCORE
Gimme Love                                                                   Gimme Love
Little Babies                                                                    Start Together
Turn It On                                                                       Let's Call It Love
Modern Girl                                                                    Modern Girl
Dig Me Out                                                                     One More Hour

Well well well...fuck me till the wheels fall off, why don't'cha.

Patrick and I were thoroughly spoiled re: setlists for this tour, 'cause that's how we are.  If the information is out there, we will find it, see?  We were aware that they were playing pretty much all of the new album, save for the dirge-y "Fade," and we were abreast of all the old faves they were dipping in and out of the sets, like so many Double Stuff'd Oreos into so many cups of whole milk. 

I'll be doing a full review of No Cities To Love later on in the week, but I won't hesitate to tell you all right here right now that 2015 Sleater-Kinney is every pound as vital, every inch as crucial, as the initial Grrrl-y incarnation of some 20 years ago.  The addition of Brit Katie Harkin on guitar/keybs/bonus percussion is a bonus to their overall sound, rather than a detriment.  (Take that, Tumblr-ing worrywarts.  She and Carrie were even synchronized on "Surface Envy."  It was incidental and adorable!)  Of the new tracks, my favorite (both on record and onstage) is the third-degree burner "Surface Envy."  I knew upon my very first listen that it would blow off and then hastily rebuild/replace the roof in a live setting, and I was far from mistaken.  A gorgeously distorted, relentless call-to-extremities that comes as close to a mega-colossal explosion as anyone reading this will experience in their lifetime.  "Price Tag" is another modern classic, a stomper for the cautious consumer that rings up and down every aisle, at every register.  S-K graduated from the Sonic Youth school of live performance, majoring in the refusal to gaze slavishly upon their past. 

In the "revelatory" category, I have to confess that "No Anthems" resonated far more with me in concert than on record.  Patrick has been a champion of the tune since the album's release, and finally, I got the hype.  Likewise, he was converted to the gospel of "Gimme Love."  Was it Corin Tucker stepping to the middle of the stage, mic in hand, free of her guitar, hands reaching out to feel the heat emanating from the ton o' luv accumulated in the audience?  Maybe it was that blue jean baby instrumental stretch, which allowed her to hit the floor quite literally, laying it all out and swinging it all around.  Either road you choose to travel by, they'll both make a hell of a difference.

I'm a member of the freak show known as "'All Hands on the Bad One' is my favorite Sleater-Kinney album, you guys!" (less members than "'Wowee Zowee' is the best Pavement album, dude!,"  more members than "'A Thousand Leaves' was the apex of Sonic Youth's career, y'all!") so to get "Youth Decay" just the once was a blessing so joyous that I damn near punched Patrick in the throat when they tore into it on the first night.  "Ironclad" was much less of a surprise, but no less of a thrill.  The band have been playing it virtually every stop on the tour, but it means more in DC than any other place on the globe.  (Hero warships...they preserve it, we deserve it.)  

Patrick, notorious lover of The Hot Rock, got his off early (and late) with "Start Together."  Who wouldn't want to touch sentient lava?  Other wool-shearing blasts from the past included the stalwart "Words and Guitar," "Dig Me Out," and "Little Babies."  Make no mistake--nothing got to us as instantly, twisted in and around our souls quite as intensely, as "Good Things" on the second night, and I doubt most sincerely that we were the only ones in the packed club that felt that way.  During S-K's 2006 "farewell" tour, they were fond of ending sets with the heart-punch of "One More Hour," bringing already distraught fans to actual tears.  They closed out their delayed DC date of '06 with "Dig Me Out," sparing some upset...but not from me.  See, I was fond of telling friends that I wouldn't cry if they'd played "One More Hour," but "Good Things," yeah, that would get to me.  Luckily for me and the people standing near me, I got to dance instead of blubber.

Not that I blubbered, exactly, but I'm grateful no one could see my eyes fill with tears, or my throat spasm from restrained emotion.  Thankfully, the band knew just how to cheer me up--the suicide song!  Yay!  Setlist construction at its most magnificent.

"Let's Call It Love" was a true shocker, the first time they've played it this tour.  I maintain that Corin is saying "Snoopy, the dog is sick" on the chorus until someone explicitly asks her and she states otherwise. 

THE CROWDS

Wait...header related to the show within the show header?  Put the wheels back on and fuck me again.

The first show was absolute fire, with everybody bringing along their sticks and stones.  Writers paid to express their half-formed, heavily-edited thoughts to the world may tell you otherwise.  They may tell you likewise.  All I can tell you is what I saw, what I heard, and most crucially, what I felt.  Bodies in emotion, true native activism.  A tidy mix of young, old, and the in-betweeners like myself.  Yes, men attend Sleater-Kinney concerts, and they're some fucking great dancers too.  I'm pretty sure people who have no need for corrective eye wear also go see S-K live, but that's just an assumption. 

There were no assholes, thankfully...we dodged a bullet with the small group of people who fought their way to the middle of the crowd during "Youth Decay" on the second night.  I thought I spied a couple ladies shooting me stink-eye for daring to hog the front when I'm damn near five-ten but hey, as I explained to Patrick on the first night--

"It does no good to get mad at me.  I'm five nine and a half 'cause my mom's five eight and a half, and my dad was six foot three.  It's all genetics.  You're five foot two trying to see the stage at a show, get here earlier or get a step ladder.  Ya know?  Not my fault her mom didn't screw a taller guy."

In addition to my height, I also have a head like a goddamn melon about to burst.  I imagine seeing me bop and hop was quite the extra treat.  On springs in the wintertime.

THE CLOTHES

The first night Carrie stole the show with Angus Young's school boy uni, minus the suit.  The second show, though, Corin was stupendously sexy in her white top with red shoulders and black pencil skirt. 

THE AFTER

Arriving home after the Tuesday concert, Patrick and I just concentrated on unconsciousness and recovery.  Going from no shows in almost two years to motherfucking Sleater-Kinney is akin to letting your precious little chihuahua out to do their sinful business, calling them back, and looking over to see a sleek, fierce tiger slowly striding to the door.  Oh, did I mention neither of us had any solids in our systems?  Yeah, that too.

Wednesday night, we treated the hell out of ourselves with hop skip and jump for the love of (veggie) chili cheese fries at the legendary Ben's Chili Bowl.  So hot, cheesy, and bean-y.  Was it real cheese?  It legitimately does not matter.  If Anthony Bourdain doesn't ask such questions, why should we?