Here is how reunion tours go, for the most part: The band, long past relevancy, decides to get together one last time. Sometimes they make an album that every one pretends doesn’t exist (see: Chinese Democracy) and then set off on a tour far more extravagant then they deserve and play a series of shows to old fans riding hard on nostalgia. The shows are stiff and the bandmates are hardly speaking. At best it’s harmless, at worst just sad, even insulting. We can thank god or Beyonce or whoever that the Sleater-Kinney reunion show at the Ogden last night was not like that at all.
Sleater-Kinney didn’t need to reunite. No band mates were in serious debt due to years of drug abuse. Carrie Brownstein has found unlikely success in comedy, and any diehard fans had that brilliant Wild Flag album from 2010 to hold them over. But the band did reunite, and in a move true to how rebellious and innovative they always were, instead of looking back, they looked forward. They recorded No Cities To Love which will undoubtedly be on everyone’s year-end best of lists (I know, it’s early, but have you heard “Bury our Friends”?) and took off on a modest, yet sold-out tour.
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The Denver show last night worked because instead of trying recapture what once was, channel into an era or moment long past, Sleater-Kinney looked at the present, and in true riot grrl fashion, gave it a giant middle finger in the form of pounding red stage lights, blistering drum beats and the signature yell from Corin Tucker. The trio is as fearless as ever. The punk-influenced, noisy garage-rock style music occasionally moves into pop territory, while always remembering to bear its fangs, and the dueling guitars are completely unopposed to cacophony, backed by interchanging vocals full of snarling lyrics, which bite as hard as any of their guitar chords. Sleater-Kinney are, at their best, a force, and that’s exactly why they were able to transcend the riot grrl label years ago and why, almost ten years after calling it quits, they are able to step back on stage with more passion and anger than ever before, completely smashing the label of a “reunited band.”
On stage at the Ogden, they didn’t feel old. They perfectly mixed songs from their new release with old favorites instead of going for the traditional “here are all those songs you loved ten years ago” route, and their furious musicianship came through as fresh as ever. Whatever stupid image people have of Brownstein from Portlandia needs to be erased and replaced by an image of her wailing on her guitar, treating it like some rag doll, there for her to manipulate and torture. Tucker is equally as engaging, her voice iconic once again. This was not just the Sleater-Kinney pretending it’s the early 2000’s again, this was three grown-ass women with something to say, something they needed to shout at the top of their lungs.
We won’t really know what made Sleater-Kinney decide to pick up their instruments and bombard and educate audiences through noise and all too smart lyrics. Maybe they were bored, or maybe they felt they needed to speak up. The chorus to “No Anthems,” which reads “But now there are no anthems/ All I can hear is the echo and the ring” makes this writer think it’s the latter. The members of Sleater-Kinney, after all, have always said what was on their minds, whether it's about politics or feminism or romance. But motives aren’t the point here, music is. And when it comes to music, Sleater-Kinney was is one of the best there is.