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Review Thu Feb 19 2015

Sleater-Kinney Reminds Chicago They're the Queens of Rock & Roll

sleaterkinneyriv.jpgBack in 2006, Sleater-Kinney announced an unelaborated and indefinite hiatus, leaving their fans with little to no hope of seeing the band together again. It may seem like an overreaction but that is at the very least how I felt as a burgeoning adult losing one of his favorite bands. Granted in the following years all the members continued making amazing music. Corin Tucker released a couple of albums that I gravitated to immediately. Drummer extraordinaire Janet Weiss played with nearly every other band I like including the Jicks, Quasi, and the Shins. Carrie Brownstein added writing and acting to her repertoire, all the while making more and more music. When Weiss joined Carrie Brownstein on Wild Flag, it was the closest thing to a Sleater-Kinney reunion most fans could clear see at the time.

Thankfully, with the release of their box set Start Together last year, new music emerged and a fully formed concept of the band returned. No Cities to Love, their first album in a decade, doesn't feel like a simple reunion album. I don't think Sleater-Kinney is capable of that. Every song on the album is a new classic that makes it seem like they never actually left. That was definitely the feeling at the Riviera, where the crowd jumped and sang along with Sleater-Kinney in an amazing show.

Lizzo and her crew opened the night with a riot grrl refresher lead by her DJ and fellow MC Sophia Eris. Segments of "Cherry Bomb," "Rebel Girl" and a couple others set the stage for the night of women taking control of the crowd at Riviera. Lizzo, who came out to the Star Wars "Imperial March," had the crowd bouncing to her alternative hip hop bangers in no time. Her drummer Ryan McMahon shredded through songs almost as quickly as Lizzo furiously dashed across the stage to the tremendous beats. The only breaks she took were to acknowledge the crowd and only to dance/twerk/jump in place. At one point her photographer Asha Efia joined the fray, dancing along and cueing the instrumentals for a song.

Lizzo's songs didn't all stick to the raucous mentally of their musical compositions. While those moments of throwing cookies to the crowd during "Batches and Cookies" or the amazing "Werk" were fun, it was the more serious twists that made Lizzo shine. Lizzo takes pride in every aspect of her identity, whether it's being a feminist, humanist, or her brown skin. A lot of her songs place a strong emphasis on cultural commentary, something she made a point of especially in her final song that reached near spiritual affirmation of her being. There is no backing down when it comes to Lizzo as she finds an understanding and balance through her songs.

lizzo riv chicago
There wasn't a moment wasted with the women of Sleater-Kinney. As soon as they stepped out from backstage they darted to their respective instruments and ripped into two songs off their latest album. "Price Tag" started it off with its cool opening riff before shifting to "Fangless," capturing the audience at the Riviera with an immense urgency. This may have been the best takeaway from the show, seeing the crowd at an undeniable fever pitch with every song. It's a testament not only to the band's staying power, but their unbelievable talent and chemistry to create songs that sound as good and memorable as their past hits.

Even so, the resulting setlist stayed true to Sleater-Kinney's massive and relentless catalog, mining the majority of their albums. Corin Tucker successfully burst through each of the songs with her magnificent voice. Her vocal cords stretched effortlessly to quivering notes that held together songs. It was absolutely riveting hearing her voice reach the astounding highs that she has always been capable of achieving. "Surface Envy," one of my favorites off the new album, was one of those tremendous peaks of Tuckers voice. She pushed those lyrics "We win/ We lose/ Only together do we break the rules" with such force, letting them rise far past any sensible point of reason into a stratosphere reserved for rock stars like Sleater-Kinney.

The crowd reaction to the show was best reflected in Janet Weiss' drumming. She has been one of my favorite drummers and her manic drumming was at full tilt during the night. Seated at the center of the stage, Weiss looked like an explosion threatening to spill out of its confinements. There was never a moment where she didn't exude a massive amount of energy. Weiss hit hardest during "Jumpers," shifting between the softer verses before slamming into the rollicking chorus, beating her drums to the edge of their capacity.

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Brownstein carried the verses of "Oh!" with a rapid fire precision as she strutted and shuffled all over the stage in her white jumpsuit. She looked like a giant above the crowd who were completely in her control. Brownstein really was the most commanding visage onstage, especially when she treated her guitar like an obvious extension of her body. During "Entertain," her guitar became a tumultuous dance partner, jutting to and fro before finally having the tip of its head placed on the floor of the stage, practically propping Brownstein up. It's a move that only she could pull off with such poise.

As Sleater-Kinney returned to the stage for the encore, one audience member threw their bra on stage. Tucker picked it up and knew it was a sign. "Tour has begun," she said before lauding touring partner Planned Parenthood and their support of reproductive health care. Other than a few thank yous and acknowledging the subzero temperatures, this was the longest moment of conversation between the band and the crowd. Sleater-Kinney's show was all about the music. No superfluous frills or unneeded banter, just enough to get you going headlong into their unabashed rock.

Their final songs encompassed the band perfectly, touching on the unsurprising range Sleater-Kinney has displayed over the years. Tucker focused entirely on her singing for "Gimme Love," giving her guitar duties to tour member Katie Harkin. "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" was dedicated to Kim Gordon, reworking the lyrics to reference Gordon's greatness instead of Thurston Moore. The band took a lovely step down with subversive "Modern Girl" before ending it all with the raucous "Dig Me Out." These songs may not all immediately look or sound indicative of Sleater-Kinney's work, but I can assure you they are. The lighter and heavier notes spun together in a whirlwind of those final glorious songs, serving as a reminder that Sleater-Kinney is still more than what they seem after all these years.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
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