Lounge Ax, May 8

By Kevin John

The Waitresses, who after all knew what half the world’s population liked, claimed they could rule the world if they could only get the parts, and what Sleater-Kinney (whose Corin Tucker, in a more blase moment, has been compared to the Waitresses’ Patty Donahue) have more than anything is the parts. There’s parts all over Call the Doctor and Dig Me Out, the two utter masterpieces the trio has unleashed in about a year’s time: Tucker will sing a lead part while second guitarist and singer Carrie Brownstein moans a backup part or vice versa; rockin’ parts screech into pretty parts; anthemic parts run up against heartbreaking parts; calm parts against angry parts; angry parts against angry parts. Together the parts add up to a joyously pragmatic songcraft that’s about to catapult them right out of indieland.

Some comparisons, then, to classic rock are in order. Like Joni Mitchell’s For the Roses, Call the Doctor and Dig Me Out display a romantic, consuming devotion to constructing a song so carefully that anyone willing to put time into sorting through its ineffables will be richly rewarded. Where Mitchell immersed herself in a sort of pristine chamber music, however, Sleater-Kinney rock like the Rolling Stones circa Exile on Main Street–that is, they layer vocals and guitars into a rich, dense, eternal sound, a sound that seems particularly tailored for those of us who come back to music again and again to enhance the quality of our lives.

But in the most delicious twist, on Dig Me Out, Sleater-Kinney infuse rock ‘n’ roll tropes (I love rock ‘n’ roll, baby I’m a star, roadrunner! roadrunner!, you’re the one that I want) with a distinctly queer and feminine energy (Tucker is bisexual, and she and Brownstein are ex-girlfriends), manifested not so much in analysis or politics (although Call the Doctor was the rockingest dissection of homophobia ever) but in the hubris of taking on rock ‘n’ roll itself as subject. It’s a project that began with Call the Doctor’s “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,” which is about what happens when rock ‘n’ roll starts to leave you cold.

In that song, Brownstein pushes through an excited crowd only to piss on 40 years of music history with a great, tossed-off, fagged-out “It’s what I thought–it’s rock ‘n’ roll” upon discovering the source of the hoopla. In that one brilliant line, she sums up a lifetime of diminished returns from an intense love-hate relationship with the music. So she decides to jump up onstage and rock out herself, drawing connections to her own sexuality as naturally as Ted Nugent does to his. Though it’s about her desire to acquire the star power of a Joey Ramone or a Thurston Moore, it connects so definitively that she does end up being our Joey Ramone. “I’m the queen of rock ‘n’ roll!” screams Tucker at one point; and how could anyone argue otherwise?

Thanks in part to a number-three finish in the Village Voice’s 1996 Pazz & Jop poll, a feature in Spin, and a small army of girls across America suddenly trying to emulate Corin Tucker, the trio seems to be settling into a slightly easier rapport with rock ‘n’ roll, celebrating its joys from a tenuous position within the belly of the beast. In Call the Doctor’s “Taking Me Home,” Tucker railed against being treated as a possession for one’s amusement; in Dig Me Out’s “It’s Enough,” a rabid fan is taking her home the way she wants–on a Sleater-Kinney record.

Tucker and company’s newly boosted confidence extends to their live playing as well, perhaps nowhere more obviously than in “Words and Guitar,” whose lyrics address rock’s capacity to captivate with both volume and subtlety. Performing the song at Lounge Ax, the band demonstrated both modes, teetering back and forth between a scorching punk blitz and a section of gorgeous Byrds-like ostinatos and chiming atmospherics a la Sonic Youth. For those two and a half minutes, everyone in the packed little house was rooting in quiet awe for Sleater-Kinney to take over the world, room by room.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos of Sleater-Kinney by Marty Perez.