Live Review: Sleater-Kinney, Philadelphia, PA, March 18, 2024

Even if you’ve paid scant attention to all things riot grrrl, ’90s past or 21st-century present, you know that the recent Sleater-Kinney is nothing like the original-vibe Sleater-Kinney. The band’s lean, mean, minimalist rage rock—with its angsty, interpersonal ire and feminist sway—has been replaced by a fuller, richer musicality that’s still disgusted with sexual relationships and gender issues, while additionally touching on highly individualized takes on progressive socio-politics and the joy and sadness that comes with age.

And then some.

With a tour named for its new album, Little Rope, and its “ninth show in a row” at Philadelphia’s Theatre Of Living Arts, co-founding guitarists/vocalists/composers Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker—with a team of three instrumentalists and background harmonists—tucked into Sleater-Kinney’s blend of elation and tears with manic-yet-controlled fervor. 

All sides of that equation could be felt in the program’s opening tracks, the loud/soft, slow/fast “Hell” and “Needlessly Wild” (both from Little Rope) and that new recording’s shroud of sorrow. With the sudden accidental death of Brownstein’s mother and stepfather during the studio sessions for Little Rope, it’s no surprise, then, that Sleater-Kinney’s freshest material sounds slightly wound, unbound and passionate in a live setting. In particular, the angularity of Brownstein’s deep voice and her choppy, “Scary Monsters” guitar work speaks to something free-falling and untethered.

Combine that with a complexly dense and moody vibe borrowed from its time with St. Vincent (she produced 2019’s The Center Won’t Hold), and Sleater-Kinney in Philadelphia sounded like something it hasn’t since its start: dangerous.

Tucker also seemed to take to Sleater-Kinney’s askew rhythmic output and charmingly gawky background vocals like a moth to a flame. The ominous crawl of “The Center Won’t Hold” and the jittery stop/start of “Small Finds” were perfect resting places for her scattered, sing-speaking voice.

Tucker had the most room to roam as a singer, with her crackled chattering vocal through the tom-tom-heavy pulse of “Six Mistakes.” But Brownstein’s gorgeous quivering take on the rainy-day, piano-filled “Dress Yourself” is still chilling to me just thinking about it. And together, as joint vocalists, Tucker and Brownstein did the gloriously off-kilter beast on the cooly anthemic likes of “A New Wave” and “All Hands On The Bad One.”

After a downbeat “Untidy Creature” from Little Rope, the fivesome ripped through an encore of past material that, though less sonically layered than its last three albums, was rich in noise, cathartic crust and head-bobbing. As “One Beat,” “Say It Like You Mean It,” “Dig Me Out” and “Entertain” rolled on, dramatically and snottily, Brownstein and Tucker proved that the sage wisdom of age and post-punk ebullience exists in one emotional, athletic package.

—A.D. Amorosi; photos by Chris Sikich