Monday, October 28, 2019

Sleater-Kinney’s music bridges the past, the present and the future

When Sleater-Kinney first played D.C. almost 25 years ago, the trio’s stripped-down, souped-up rock sounded like the future. Friday night at the Anthem, the Pacific Northwest band’s current incarnation added synthetic bleeps and thumps — commonplace sonic emblems of Tomorrowland — for such songs as “The Future Is Here.” But the 100-minute, 29-song set also encompassed such older tunes as “Words and Guitar,” whose title listed nearly all its ingredients.

Those words are distinctively pointed, but what really distinguishes Sleater-Kinney, then and now, is the singing of Carrie Brownstein and especially Corin Tucker. The band’s two founding members intertwine their voices, weaving them into jabbing guitar lines that ascend almost as high as Tucker’s beautiful-but-not-pretty caterwaul. This musical ballet was mirrored by the way the high-kicking Brownstein and the more-anchored Tucker moved in and out of each other’s physical orbits onstage.

The band played all of its latest album, The Center Won’t Hold,” plus an urgent new song, “Animal,” recorded during the same sessions. Hyper-produced by St. Vincent, the recent recordings alarmed some fans, especially since the new style seemed to lead to the departure of longtime drummer Janet Weiss. She’s been replaced by Angie Boylan, whose playing at the Anthem was spare and powerful.

Two other auxiliary players, multi-instrumentalists Katie Harkin and Toko Yasuda, helped reproduce the new album’s fuller sound. Yasuda, a veteran of St. Vincent’s band, played keyboards most of the time, and Harkin did occasionally. The contributions of the additional musicians didn’t clutter the sound, and sometimes Harkin and Yasuda had little to do. They vanished entirely during such earlier, spikier songs as “One More Hour” and “Dig Me Out.”

The older numbers prompted the strongest response from the almost-capacity crowd, but the new material was also received enthusiastically. If the band’s original musical style has been upholstered, its passions are little altered. The refrain of “Animal” is “I’m not who you thought,” which could be a line from the group’s 1995 debut.

As Brownstein’s onstage comments about the current administration indicated, Sleater-Kinney’s politics have expanded from the personal to the presidential. Tucker has said that “Broken” — the evening’s quietest song, but not its least intense — was inspired by Christine Blasey Ford’s congressional testimony. The future may be bright, but it’s shadowed by the past.

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