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Review: Sleater-Kinney at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco

JAN 17, 3:36 P.M. ET
by Jim Harrington
LiveDaily contributing writer

SAN FRANCISCO--One has to look through the deafening buzz of guitars, the heavy drum beats and the mesh of impassioned vocals to find out what makes Sleater-Kinney a truly special band.

On Monday night (1/14)--the first of a three-night stand at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall--the trio proved once again that it can shake the foundation as soundly as any rock act in the business. The urgent songs, built upon the tangle of voices and guitars from Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, kept coming every three minutes, like a flurry of punches from a middleweight boxer. But it's not the sound that made getting tickets for these shows about as easy as securing a high-paying job in Silicon Valley. Beyond the potent din, you'll find some of the most gripping and intelligent lyrics in recent pop history.

Granted, it was often difficult to hear the lyrics through the driving punk rock sounds that flooded the ornate club at top volume. But songs like "One Song for You," "Start Together" and especially "Burn, Don't Freeze" made it worth the effort.

There is seemingly no such thing as a lukewarm Sleater-Kinney fan. The crowd, which appeared evenly split between young men and women, was really into the show. The fans already knew every word of every song. And more often than not, it was pure punk-rock poetry, as direct and unmistakable as the tip of a knife. Possibly the most intense lyrics of the night came from the band's hellfire delivery of "Stay Where You Are" from 1995's excellent "Call the Doctor":

"I claw and I scratch and I beg and I scream/I just need you to save me one last time."

Sleater-Kinney--which takes its name from a freeway off-ramp in Olympia, Wash.--dealt out a steady stream of angst and fire and rebellion in their songs. However, the three members seemed to be incredibly upbeat during the song breaks, even bubbly. They laughed and joked with the crowd and were clearly happy to be in a riot-grrl-friendly city like San Francisco.

The band, which also includes powerful drummer Janet Weiss, used this first evening to try out a number of unreleased tunes. These new songs weren't introduced to the crowd, and the names didn't seem particularly critical. The fans treated each debut in the same manner that most music lovers reserve for beloved hits.

Of course, these devoted fans had yet to learn all the words to these new songs. But trust me, that will all change by the time Sleater-Kinney comes to town again.