The crowd at a packed Roundhouse have been waiting a long time for tonight; it’s been almost a decade since Sleater-Kinney graced our shores. But the first of three UK dates on their come back world tour felt far from being a reunion – it felt like the last 10 years hadn’t happened, like they were just carrying on.
The band themselves made no reference to their prolonged absence. There wasn’t a hint of nostalgia, no weepy ‘we’re so glad to be back’. Of course this shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given the understated – and typically cool – way in which they informed the world that they were set to reappear.
Record label Sub Pop released a vinyl box set of their back catalogue at the end of last year. Those lucky enough to get their mitts on it eventually found an unlabelled seven inch tucked away inside, with the date “1/20/15” etched into it. Home-recorded clips of this previously unheard song – Bury Our Friends – started to appear on Youtube before the band released it properly. Further songs, a brilliant full album – No Cities To Love – and tour dates started tumbling from camp S-K at a giddying pace. Sleater-Kinney had woken up, and so had their legions of fans across the world.
In a nod to the reception their eighth album has had, they open with Price Tag, one its most warbling, defiant tracks. Most of the new record gets a look in and it stands up well next to some of their more raucous older work, and to the uninitiated it’d be hard to work the set list into chronological order. But there are plenty of old favourites to elicit excited gasps from the crowd.
Despite the mutual excitement, interaction with the crowd was kept to a minimum, with just a few thank yous and ‘we’re excited to be here’s, so Corin Tucker’s sneeringly cool introduction to Gimme Love (“Gimme respect! Gimme equality! Gimme love!”) is raptuously received. The band are joined throughout the show by Sky Larkin‘s Katie Harkin, who keeps a respectful distance while adding occassional keys, guitar and drums – freeing Corin up to really let rip during the songs, stalking the stage, throwing her hair around, her trademark screech pitch perfect.
Fellow guitarist and singer Carrie Brownstein’s life has changed immeasurbly since she last played with the band; as the co-creater and star of comedy show Portlandia, she’s earned something of a cult following, known for much more than her place on this stage. Not that you’d know that tonight; she quickly resumes her old role, throwing the occassional high kick and relishing her solos. The real star of the night however is Janet Weiss, who drums with such ferocity, you genuinely wonder how she keeps going for over 100 minutes. She drives the band hard but tight and the chemistry between the trio is simply perfect; wild eyed, passionate, at times angry, but also really good fun. There’s not a person in the room who doesn’t want to be in their band right now.
New record aside, the rest of the set list was farmed from all but their first two albums. Dig Me Out’s representatives were Words and Guitar and Turn It On; The Hot Rock’s were The End Of You and Get Up; and One Beat’s title track, Oh! and Sympathy were unexpected treats.
Their last album before they split, 2005’s The Woods is clearly still close to their heart; it was the biggest contributor of the night, with What’s Mine Is Yours, Rollercoaster, Entertain and Jumpers in the main set, before a five song encore of Youth Decay – from All Hands On The Bad One – Let’s Call it Love and Dig Me Out. Its highlight was a triumphant sing-along to Modern Girl, which has always felt like a statement about the band’s place in the music world. Never quite riot grrrl, never quite post-rock; Sleater-Kinney have always been happy being Sleater-Kinney.
Tonight rounded off an incredible few months; with little notice, they’ve regrouped, produced the best album of their career and pulled off a stunning, no frills live show. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another decade to hear from them again.