Once upon a time, there were no reunion tours. For its first few decades rock ’n’ roll was too young for nostalgia, and bands broke up because their fans had moved on. I don’t know who was the first to reunite, but somewhere in the ’80s, the ball began rolling, the checks began growing and “reunion tour” became another rock band station of the cross, like signing to a major label or the bassist entering rehab: Round up whoever’s still alive and willing, fill in the missing places with studio hacks and hit the road.
This year, everyone from Fleetwood Mac to The Police to ’N Sync to Ride are doing one more “for the fans.” Heck, The Who are on their eighth reunion tour. But there is one band who aren’t sleepwalking on the comeback trail: At their recent Los Angeles shows, Sleater-Kinney fired it up every bit as fiercely as when I first saw them at a Tower Records in New York in 1998.
It’s been eight years since Sleater-Kinney dissolved: No acrimony, just time to move on. Drummer Janet Weiss worked with other bands, singer/guitarist Corin Tucker went solo and became a mom, while guitarist/singer Carrie Brownstein co-created the TV show Portlandia. The trio reunited for their 2015 album No Cities to Love, which seethes with all the punk fury and pop hooks Sleater-Kinney are known for.
Their live show was heavy on new music, as well as Dig Me Out, which still ranks as one of the greatest albums of the ’90s. But whether off the first album or the eighth, the band still gave flawless execution of fiery passion. Brownstein’s alternately wistful and sullen vocals played off of Tucker’s warrior-princess howl, while their guitars seamlessly interlocked and the beats drove the raw reality-show rage of “Entertain,” the almost-retro bounce of “Little Babies” and the half-sentimental, half-cynical “Modern Girl.”
The audience tipped more toward female than male, as Sleater-Kinney’s audiences always have. The irony being that chicks don’t dig Sleater-Kinney because they’re all about girl stuff, but because they’re not. They go past feminism into humanism: Everyone loves girls, boys, music, fun, freedom. Everyone fears boredom, loneliness, confusion, heartbreak, dead ends. And we all want a loud guitar.
As Weiss launched into a barrage of primal-yet-precise drumming to open “Dig Me Out” and, as the audience coalesced into a roar, I swear I felt the spirit of Keith Moon. Standing somewhere in the back, pint in hand, nodding approvingly and shouting “Alright then! Go find Pete and Roger and tell ’em you’re in charge of my kit now. And see if you can bring that bass player, whatshername, was in a band called the Fairies or Elves or something, has a twin … That’ll goose up the ol’ ‘Substitute.’ Hah!”
But I hope there’s not another Sleater-Kinney reunion: That would mean they’d have to break up again.