It all happened so innocently, my love for riotgrrl queens Corin Tucker, Janet Weiss, and Carrie Brownstein, collectively and arguably better known as Sleater-Kinney. While living in Austin in the late 90s, I wanted to attend an in-store performance at Waterloo Records by this well-regarded female rock trio which at the time I had never heard of. Unable to make the event I sprung for a copy of their third studio album, Dig Me Out, and lost my mind. Just lost it. What was this sound? Who were these ladies? The hungry, urgent beats, the sharp, frenetic guitar work, and the layered, waling vocals. And the lyrics? Each song was a visual field infused by carefully chosen wording arcing in harmony. I was hooked, taken, even smitten, and I wanted more.
Despite acquiring their catalogue over time and immersing myself in their sound on the regular, it would be years before I would be able to see Sleater-Kinney (often known as S-K to their masses) perform live. In 2003 Pearl Jam toured in support of their album Yield and played the UNO Lakefront Arena; Sleater-Kinney opened, and I went. Historically opening acts get brushed aside, plus their sets can be so short and rushed. True to form S-K played a nice batch of their material but as quickly as they’d started it ended and bingo, bango, bongo on came Eddie Vedder et al. And I like Pearl Jam enough, but not as much, so I called it a night just a few songs into their set. That’s the kind of Sleater-Kinney fan I am when they open: I walk out on the headliner.
In 2005 at the insistence of Hurricane Katrina having found myself again residing albeit temporarily in Austin, I inexplicably worked The Austin City Limits Music Fest which I was excited to learn S-K was to play. Only they didn’t. For whatever reason the Kaiser Chiefs played their slot instead. And shortly after that Sleater-Kinney went on hiatus, a seemingly indefinite one. Frankly, I never thought they’d re-form. And if they did, well, would it be the same line-up? Would the vitality remain? I felt like my fandom would go on under-realized with but one live show having been attended. A short time later in 2006 while rebuilding in New Orleans, Corin played sans Janet or Carrie at Tipitina’s alongside a host of other rock talent for the benefit of Musicians Bringing Musicians Home. I had no money so I stood outside Tip’s and listened to her perform. While still getting my bearings as a returnee, even hearing her from the sidewalk was a veritable highlight for me that year.
Years go by. I still keep listening to my S-K records. At some point I sadly miss Carrie play guitar with the ensemble Wild Flag at One-Eyed Jacks. Then Portlandia happens. The world falls in love with Fred Armisen all over again while simultaneously discovers Carrie as his bonafide better half. Some of the episodes feature Corin, or Corin’s husband Lance Bangs, or other rock icons in Aimee Mann or Sarah McLachlan. But Carrie’s not playing guitar. She’s funny, the theme song is, yes, hypnotic, but all the while those that knew Carrie well before this point were left to wonder: With this newfound success on the small screen, would she ever windmill again?
Without fanfare and known to few, S-K reunite to record in 2014, and boom! 2015 lay-ups into the release of that album and a tour. The first leg of the tour freezes out New Orleans. Those among us that look closely at the tour dates see the closest thing we might feasibly road trip for is a Chicago date, but lo and behold that happens to be Mardi Gras Day. And well, that ain’t happening. You don’t suffer the slings and arrows of the diurnal city shenanigans to scamper of to a rock show on the greatest day of the year. You just don’t. Thankfully another tour leg is announced and boom again! The Civic wins out as the venue and in short order the show sells out.
In the world of rock, second comings remain rare. Even when they do happen, the authenticity can fade or wane, often chasing a paycheck or an endorsement. As I feverishly look forward to Sunday night, fingers crossed this won’t be last New Orleans sees of Sleater-Kinney. Rock on, ladies.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
I’ve loved Portlandia for a while and always heard references to Carrie’s band on “All Songs Considered”. Thanks for bringing to my attention. Just gave em a good listen and I love it. Not my all the time music, but definitely has a time and place for me.
Nice write up. For what it’s worth Yield came out in 98 SK supported PJ on the Riot Act tour. I have not seen SK live since then and I’m looking forward to their Atlanta show tonight.