Sleater-Kinney brought down the packed house at Austin’s ACL Live at the Moody Theater on Saturday night with a set that included every song from their fan-challenging new album, as well as a generous helping of songs from their extensive back catalog.
This has been a landmark year for the indie-rock legends. Last summer they released The Center Won’t Hold, their second studio LP since reuniting in 2014. Produced by Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent), the record mixes a more straightforward indie-rock approach which was heavily influenced by Clark’s more corrosive, electronic-bombast sound. The drastic change in sound has received pushback from some corners—the most drastic being longtime drummer Janet Weiss, who departed after the album’s release citing the shift in creative direction.
Sleater-Kinney took the stage after a polite but by-the-numbers set from Kaina, an R&B-flavored singer-songwriter whose music invoked an occasional house vibe. The band, now a five-piece, wasted no time getting down to business, as the electronic drums of “The Center Won’t Hold” boomed through the venue. The first 2/3 of the song was performed in low light, with the stage bursting into color as the more traditional punk-rock ending section cranked up. The studio version is the new track most prominently driven by Weiss, so it was nice to see new touring drummer Angie Boylan effectively holding down the kit. There is no doubt that losing a long-term member affects the energy of a group, but Boylan was an admirable fill-in.
Both frontwomen had plenty of room to shine. Corrin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein’s voices intertwined and at times mimicked one another–not surprising given that they’ve been playing together for 25 years now. If anything, Tucker’s live vocal performance is more of a banshee wail, while Brownstein brings a shriek. This is in addition to their regular singing voices, which they have developed over the years. Brownstein is the band’s visual center, a blur of energy whose guitar theatrics rival any big shot you can name off the top of your head.
The stage design was impressive and modern looking–moody at times, while lit brightly at others. Sometimes the band’s dark attire and general vibe invoked the backing band from Robert Palmer’s classic “Addicted To Love” video, though it’s a safe bet this was accidental.
The tracks from the new album peppered the nearly two-hour performance. The second song of the night was “Hurry On Home”, and its placement in the setlist mirrored the album’s tracklist sequence. After that, it was “Price Tag” from 2005’s The Woods, the last Sleater-Kinney album of their first era which saw the band experiment with noisy psychedelia, in their other most radical departure from their core sound to date. Though this jammy element has vanished from their live show, it was hinted at in a performance of another new song, “RUINS”, which seemed to burble over with loose, woozy noise.
The set continued in similar fashion, including songs old and new. Their breakthrough album, Dig Me Out, was featured with “Words And Guitar” along with one of their most immediate numbers, “One More Hour”. For the latter, the band stripped down to a three-piece as supplemental musicians Katie Harkin and Tako Yasuda left the stage in deference to Sleater-Kinney’s classic trio configuration.
Cheers greeted standout tracks like “Jumpers”—also from The Woods—as well as “All Hands On The Bad One” and “Call The Doctor”, the title tracks of their respective LPs. Another standout was “The Dog/The Body” from Center, which highlighted some of the band’s catchiest songwriting.
By the time the encore came around, the band pulled out the big guns. There was an emotional performance of the piano ballad “Broken”, which featured Brownstein on piano with Tucker on the stage. They also included “Modern Girl”, arguably their most-beloved track before winding things down with “Youth Decay” and “Dig Me Out” to get the audience fired up one last time.
The evening marked Tucker’s 47th birthday, which was alluded to during the performance several times. During the encore, Brownstein spoke emotionally about the years she has known and worked with Tucker. Was this an outpouring of birthday love? A standard bit of between-song banter? Who knows, but the band and the audience filled the room with emotion and love. By the time the audience filed out, it was a safe bet no one was leaving unhappy.
Check out fan-shot videos of the band’s performance at ACL Live on Saturday.
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Seater-Kinney continues their fall tour this week with a performance at The Van Buren in Phoenix, AZ on November 11th. Head to the band’s website for tickets and tour info.