Live Review: Sleater-Kinney @ Vogue Theatre, Vancouver - April 4th 2024

Live Review: Sleater-Kinney @ Vogue Theatre, Vancouver – April 4th 2024

On the 30th anniversary of the legendary Kurt Cobain’s departure from this mortal plain, fellow Pacific Northwest rockers Sleater-Kinney wrapped their latest Little Rope tour. On their penultimate night, Vancouver fans got to enjoy a hell of a hard-hitting show at the Vogue. 

Originating in Olympia, Washington in the early 90s, the high-powered duo of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein were having their come-up alongside the likes of Nirvana, unquestionably kindred spirits in their raw and blemished songwriting and devil-may-care attitude. Over decades on stage and eleven ever-evolving studio albums, S-K have cemented themselves as feminist icons of the punk scene, even gaining the privilege to be immortalized in fellow riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna’s “Hot Topic” lyrics. More than a niche act, however, despite line-up shuffles and sabbaticals to pursue creative endeavours outside of music, the group has remained a mainstay of independent rock. Considering how much Kurt supported the feminist movement, and how much support he showed to women in his male-dominated industry, I would say the synergy between the two forces at this, the end of their excellent tour, was fitting.

Equally synergistically, yet another female-fronted outfit with regional ties opened up the show. Having toured the first leg with Sleater-Kinney, this evening Black Bell Eagle Scout, led by the dynamic Katherine Paul, were there on an impromptu mission to fill in for Pale Hound. Their loss was our gain, however, as Paul brought a strong performance with depth and authenticity. While Paul can call herself a Portlander, she possesses more primal affinities to her motherland around Anacortes. Raised in a Coast Salish musical tradition, Paul grew up with Indigenous musical traditions, while also coming of age under the spell of bootleg Nirvana and Hole VHS tapes. Now she finds harmony melding influences from her Swinomish/Iñupiaq heritage with indie post-rock vibes. Underrepresented would be a glaring understatement when describing indigeneity in mainstream music, so it’s with much joy that I now add BBES to my music collection.

Katherine demonstrated this confluence of vibes in “Indians Never Die”, which she dedicated to all the Coast Salish peoples here, her family and her relations. Its ghostly intro, repeating “wasted wasted”, set an ethereal tone, building to an impassioned riffing chorus. Paul is capable of a beautiful range of vocalizations, from breathy and pleading to piercing and cool to gritty and angsty. The next moment you’ll find her shredding over her bandmate’s heavy bass chords, a strong instrumentalist. The group has mastered the art of spinning a captivating jam, swaying on stage to the sound and they achieved a trance-inducing state only to crank the volume at will to a thrilling buzz.

Synthy and distorted didgeridoo and sax strains flooded our ears as Sleater-Kinney bandmates started filtering onto the well-set stage at The Vogue, going wild as Corin and Carrie flanked the stage to lead the charge. They wasted no time kicking off a staggering litany of songs spanning their career and didn’t waste the opportunity to draw us in with the new single “Hell”, the perfect intro song to both the album and a set. Having taken the lead on most of the vocals on Little Rope, Tucker took on the challenging track with skill as the song’s crashing chorus stirred the crowd out of rapt silence during the verse. Flashing strobes set the tone and flames engulfed the stage on led pillars. 

Carrie then leant her staccato vocals to the synch-heavy b-side “Needlessly Wild”, and the two tossed it back and forth as the gig went on. Having two distinctive lead singers gives S-K’s sound a fun range and a brilliant effect live as they bring their voices together during unison choruses. At moments they boasted a literal choir of voices as their bandmates chimed in with solidarity, elevating the live performance astronomically. 

Having emerged in the very cradle of the grunge era, Sleater-Kinney first struck gold with rough and ready sophomore album Dig Me Out, which spurred a long line of albums to feed their cult following. In their set, the band dug up the best of their 90s era with tracks like “Get Up”, a driving and mathy composition that felt as fresh as it would have all those years ago, and “One More Hour,” a classic punk structure with wild wails and a driving beat. But this show pulled from across their impressive repertoire. 

Pacing themselves while pursuing projects outside of music, the band upped the innovation every single, coordinating a cover album of the iconic Dig and collaborating with the likes of St. Vincent. From this they played “The Center Won’t Hold”, a trudging art piece strung together by feminist threads, creeping up into an explosion. It felt like a proper old-school rock show in the best way. Later the overwhelming chorus of dark angels intoned the dramatic bars of “Hurry on Home”, the lead vocalists vamping and belting tremendously.

Not to be diminished by their previous accolades, Little Rope reflects a refinement and nuance of character yet without dampening their existing kinetic energy. They busted out a lot of it to a crowd who had clearly been listening to it on repeat and the bright lights dazzled and disoriented the standout new banger “Hunt You Down”. The group really ran the gamut of sounds and influences. One moment they were taken in the throes of the doom metal strains, the frontwomen hammering it home, hopping across the stage, screaming and thrashing. The next they would bounce to a sultry softer side, embraced in the organ drawl and tender conclusion of “Dress Yourself”. And of course, they touched on their most iconic numbers with boppy “A New Wave” and the powerful sunbeams of “Modern Girl”.

All the while, the rockstars cultivated a warm presence on stage, citing the connection they feel to this part of the world, and us their fellow Cascadians. They brought an easy charm as they paused their behemoth set to comment on the security guard at the front of the room baby-birding the dehydrated guests, pouring water in the mouths of any who asked. “I have never in my life seen that before! You guys are sharing the water bottle… In America there would be a lawsuit immediately,” Brownstein joked. 

Allowing time for a sip break, Carrie even took a moment to sign a fan’s copy of her memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. And in the final number, Corin seized her moment to connect with the crowd. She dashed off unceremoniously into the wings only to pop up on the barrier in front of the stage. Belting the power ballad at a lucky cluster of fans nearby, she left it all out there, emotion wicking off her, her face contorted with the effort.

Their healthy encore encapsulated the expansive goal of the overall set, an elevation of three decades’ worth of work. They busted out “Joey Ramone”, which had until a night ago been unplayed in years. They thrashed to “Dig It Out”, the frenetic headbang epic that started it all. It all rounded off with a new instant favourite in my heart with an intoxicating line, “Say It Like You Mean It”. Hearing these fabulous new offerings live amidst their back catalogue only served to cement their genius as songwriters and performers and they left their fans in slack-jawed awe as only the best of the punk bands can. 

Thanks to MRG Concerts + Timbre Concerts for having us out.

Sleater-Kinney Set List

Needlessly Wild
Bury Our Friends
The Center Won’t Hold
Small Finds
Get Up
One More Hour
Hunt You Down
Hurry on Home
Don’t Feel Right
All Hands on the Bad One
Can I Go On
Six Mistakes
Dress Yourself
The Fox
A New Wave
Modern Girl
Untidy Creature

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone
Good Things
Say It Like You Mean It
Dig Me Out

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