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Sleater-Kinney at the Bowery Ballroom: Ass-Kickin' Girl-Cock Rock

By Jeanne Fury
October 2000

Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney are the saviors of rock. No band is as intelligent, aware or precise as this trio. And, holy shit, they rock my girl-cock into a frenzy.

As an aside, I'm curious to know whether popular music can be any more misogynistic. The overall message from Woodstock '99 to the armpit of Detroit is that if you're a young girl, put out or get out. Oh, but if you put out, you're a ho. If you don't put out, you don't exist because you are really nothing more than a few wet, walking orifices waiting to be stuffed. And truthfully, there's nothing wrong with beating the shit out of women because surely they asked for it in one way or another. You know what's absolutely hilarious? Getting your wee daughter to accompany you to the studio while you record songs about killing her mother and dumping the body. But at least one perpetrator is honest because he wrote a song admitting he does it all for the nookie. Furthermore, the lyrical pinhead rhymed "nookie" with "cookie," and America loved it.

What the fuck???

To the confused survivors of popular music, you can roar back with Sleater-Kinney at your side. Greeting fans outside the Bowery Ballroom, September 25, 2000, was a poster of the band with Tucker in the middle wearing a T-shirt that says "show me your riffs." Brilliant.

Obviously, there are other respectable bands out there that play, write and perform quite well, but no one is as obsessed with rock as Sleater-Kinney, and it shows. This is the real thing, and it's more cathartic than a million hermits flogging themselves in the name of salvation.

Brownstein cordially greeted New York City, saying that it was good to be back here so soon. Then, some jerk-face in the balcony yelled out something to the effect of "Play better than you did at Irving Plaza the last time," referring to the band's show in May. His demand was met with a flood of booing and you can imagine what else. Tucker grinned and replied, "I don' t think they like you." And with that the band launched into its opening number, the title track of the new album, All Hands on the Bad One.

Between Tucker's and Brownstein's dueling guitar charisma and Weiss's intensely severe yet unequivocal drumming, there's nowhere to go but up. And then there's the singing.

You know, for all the attention given to the five-alarm fire in Tucker's throat, no one really gives Brownstein props for her scream. She could turn a Redwood to splinters with that chainsaw of hers. It's kind of like the hiss of a territorial alley cat crossed with the after-effects of a vinegar-and-barbed-wire smoothie. (What the hell am I talking about?) Example: when Sleater-Kinney played "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone," with the criss-cross "Yeah/Whoa" chorus by Tucker and Brownstein, the latter spit demon-piss from her lungs. (No, seriously, what the hell am I talking about?)

Now then, Tucker's shrill, resonating scream is more body-piercing than the East Village. But I love when she goes for the guttural, big-bad-wolf effect. Mustering up the machismo she's got stored in her gut like a football captain pumping-up her players in a huddle, Tucker was bad-ass and spirited. And so I come to Janet Weiss, the third songbird. Well, let's just say that if I grow up to be half as cool as the big JW, I'll be tickled pink. Maybe even tickled fuscia. Her harmonizing is so bittersweet you could choke. With eyes passionately closed, she manages to sing the perfect note, hold it and slam the stars out of her drums. Weiss is an extraordinary musician who could easily steal the show if you're willing to let her. And she's so damn classy.

Individual attributes aside, the band has created a collection of modern masterpieces. It's so difficult to write about something you unconditionally love, admire and are willing to dedicate your life to without sounding eccentric, but Sleater-Kinney are very grounded in their love. Songs about growing up, being in love, being out of love, being a girl, being angry and just plain being alive have never felt so sincere or so gratifying for the listener. The set included "Start Together," "Call the Doctor," "Words & Guitar," "Good Things," "Ballad of the Ladyman," "Ironclad," "Youth Decay," "End of You," "Little Mouth," "You're No Rock 'n' Roll Fun" and three new songs. The band did two encores, and ended the evening by instructing the crowd to grab a partner, as their last song was a bit on the slower side, "Jenny," with Tucker singing the mind-bending lyrics, "I am the girl/ I am the ghost/ I am the wife/ I am the one.

Reflection time. Sleater-Kinney usually do nothing other than take care of business when they play live - scant smiles, hard eyes and more than a bit standoffish - but some friendly audience interaction will sneak in. Tonight was weird, though. The set didn't include the two most political (it's an ugly word, I know) tracks off of the Bad One: "#1 Must Have" and "Male Model." This absence did not go unnoticed. Brownstein would play with her back to the crowd for uncomfortably long seconds, and not one of her famed slo-mo karate kicks accompanied the raucous playing. Someone wished Weiss a happy birthday to which she looked up and yelled "thank you," like she knew it'd be rude to ignore the gesture. Tucker was the one who smiled the most, and that's not a lot. This removed air reminds me of a song of theirs from 1998's release Dig Me Out called "Little Babies." I imagine the gist of the song to be about how unnerving and aggravating giving so much of your self to an audience night after night can be, the same way motherhood can often be a very thankless job. If you've got no goodies to give, you're not a dutiful mommy.

I guess New York City is like that. It needs to be able to really devour the performer. Living in an environment with as much over-stimulation as a masturbation marathon comes the need for someone/something to arrive, put a finger to its lips, pause and then drop an anvil on everyone's toes. It's a daunting task for anyone to undertake, especially when the crowd's reaction can come in any form from outrage to appreciation. So for those about to rock, I salute you. (Read: Like I said, Sleater-Kinney are the saviors of rock 'n' roll).