Concert review: Sleater-Kinney at Newport Music Hall

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Sleater-Kinney opened its encore at a sold-out Newport Music Hall on Saturday by easing into "Modern Girl," a slow, pretty number colored in genial guitar, conversational vocals and harmonica that wheezed like the squeaky hinges of a screen door caught in a summer breeze.

"My whole life was like a picture of a sunny day," sighed singer/guitarist Carrie Brownstein, joined onstage by fellow singer/guitarist Corin Tucker and drummer Janet Weiss.

It was one of the few moments where the clouds parted in an 85-minute concert defined by ferocious guitar squalls, banshee wails and propulsive drums that drove the music forward with locomotive insistence.

Sleater-Kinney, on tour for the first time since 2006, expressed zero enthusiasm for the typical reunion trappings. "We weren't at all interested in the whole nostalgia thing," Weiss said in a late November phone interview. The musicians, in turn, kicked off the evening with "Price Tag," a particularly timely anthem born of minimum wage economic angst ("I stock the shelves/ I work the rows") that also opens the band's eighth and most-recent full-length album, No Cities to Love.

Though Sleater-Kinney professed little interest in embracing musical nostalgia, the same couldn't be said of its decidedly retro lighting rig, which could've been constructed piecemeal at a series of 1970s-era garage sales. And while momentum consistently drew the band forward, it didn't prevent the trio from reaching backwards into its deep catalog of jittery, angular guitar rave-ups.

The musicians, joined on a number of tracks by guest keyboardist/guitarist Katie Harkin, chased "The Fox," a standout track off The Woods, from 2004, through thick, tangled brambles of guitar. "Land ho!" howled Tucker, a warning cry that did little to slow the band's accelerated pace. "Words and Guitar," off Dig Me Out, from 1997, built around just that, with Brownstein and Tucker trading punchy six-string riffs and clipped vocals. "Oh!," meanwhile, bounded along on Weiss' driving backbeat and featured the musicians moving in effortless, intricate circles, like a basketball team working the three-man weave to fast break perfection.

During the band's downtime, Brownstein revealed a new talent, emerging as a co-star on the comedy series "Portlandia." Fittingly, she maintained a similar sense of showmanship here, repeatedly stomping her foot and punctuating her guitar playing with an endless barrage of kicks and windmills. On multiple occasions, she lifted her guitar skyward, like an angler reeling in a massive catch. Tucker, for her part, remained grounded even as her powerful voice raised and broke, crashing across the venue like a churning, rippling wave.

Elsewhere, Sleater-Kinney focused on its latest, tearing into the title track with animal ferocity and pouncing on the buzzing "A New Wave," where Tucker wielded her guitar like a bass, anchoring the low end as Brownstein's instrument frothed and skimmed along the surface.

"No one here is taking notice," Tucker howled on the latter, even as a sold-out audience clung tight to every note.