Sleater-Kinney play summer fests and release their best LP to date

Mike Schoeck

Riot-grrl punk trio Sleater-Kinney return with “One Beat,” released in late August. Since the Olympia, Wash., raised three’s 1994 debut out of the seminal early 90’s band Heavens to Betsey, “One Beat” is the most intricate and well-rounded record to appear off Northwest indie rock label Kill Rock Stars since Elliott Smith broke with the “Good Will Hunting” picked ballads from 1997’s “Either/Or.”
With a vocal and charismatic resemblance to a young Joan Jett’s lovechild with Eddie Vedder and Joey Ramone, singer Corin Tucker, guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss have found the time to settle in as 30-somethings. Tucker became mom to baby boy Marshall while the other three have settled from Olympia into the scene of Portland, Ore., likely the new fresh capital of all things punk out west.
Within the past several years the three had politely turned down bids to appear at the Lilith Fair and Lollapalooza outings in favor of more recent summer rock fests such as Seattle’s Bumbershoot fest and Coney Island’s Siren Music Fest ritual as of its second season.
Weiss, being the oldest girl, lusciously graced last year’s Siren audience with ex-husband Sam Coomes in their experimental indie-pop side project Quasi. With her S-K sisters, Weiss muscled her way through an encored headlining performance with her machine-gun start and stop drumming.
Playing a mere two hour plus set just a block from the Boardwalk, Sleater-Kinney ran through an expansive catalog of their Ramones-turns-political material. They included several takes of songs off of the burly “One Beat” and 2000’s “All Hands on the Bad One.”
Weiss’ five-beat hit call and response drumming provides a cordial S-K invitation with opening title track “One Beat.” The voice exchanges between Corin’s verses and the chanting response from Brownstein and Weiss shows the band’s gutsy roots, drawing on past songs like “Call the Doctor” and “Dig Me Out.”
Tucker concludes her last verse in riot-grrl wailing, “If I’m to run the future, you’ve got to let the old world go / Should I come outside and run your cars / Should I run your rockets to the stars/ Could you invent a world for me?”
Inserting ‘riot’ as the group’s brand of girl punk is traditional in the sense of grunge to the Nirvana before breaking with “Nevermind” and the Ramones during their CBGB tenure before “Rock and Roll High School.” The girl-power statement isn’t apparent in its own right within the bulk of S-K’s material.
One exception is “Oh!,” the band’s new single on college radio as of its Aug. 22 release. The song has the punk punch complimented with the fresh bounce of sing-along refrains and new-wave keyboard effects by cohorts Steve Fisk and Sam Coomes.
Formal tie Coomes also adds male presence to “Prisstina” and “Combat Rock,” a name drawn from UK punk band The Clash. Here Tucker and company make one of “One Beat’s” bold statements that puts it above their previous records and those within the latter day realm of indie rock.
Lyrically Tucker’s “One Beat” veers between slashing political and social statements with such tracks as “Prisstina,” “Hollywood Ending” and “Step Aside.” Amid “Combat Rock’s” buoyant grunge-laden refrains Tucker sings, “There are reasons to unite / Is this why we unite / If you hate this time, remember we are the time!”
“One Beat” takes top honors above scores of this year’s bleach wash mess of drawback attempt acts.
Look for Sleater-Kinney in the area this fall as they play Oct. 14 at The Roxy in Boston, Mass., and two stints, Oct. 15 and 16 at lower Manhattan’s Irving Plaza. New York indie darlings the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s support on all dates, with Mirah and The Quails also on the New York bills.