It’s been ten years since Sleater-Kinney last released an album. After ‘The Woods’ was released in 2005, and despite its warm reception by critics and fans, camp Kinney fell quiet. Two years of disparate live dates, and an absence of new material followed, before the band – singer/guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, and drummer Janet Weiss – announced indefinite hiatus. It was uncertain whether the trio would ever return.
In the meantime, Brownstein’s star rose quite apart from the musical world, thanks to her turn in sketch show Portlandia. Her work with side project Wild Flag – also featuring Janet Weiss –kept their places in the indie music press warm. But Sleater-Kinney’s absence left a hole which none of this could fill.
Late last year, the hiatus officially ended with the announcement of a new album – this year’s No Cities To Love, released on previous label Sub Pop – and an accompanying four-date tour. The news was met with frenzied anticipation. Their time away hadn’t damaged their prospects as a reunited touring band; it had only served to heighten hysteria. Tonight’s gig sold out within hours.
This hysteria is evident from the crackling excitement emanating from tonight’s crowd. Warmed up by the sweet but sharp retro garage-punk of Manchester’s Pins – who will accompany Sleater-Kinney on three of their four UK dates – the audience meet the band with rapturous applause as they take their places. Tightly packed within the centre of the Roundhouse’s generous stage, Sleater-Kinney are sending a clear message: that once again they are a unit, one that is more powerful than ever.
This message is bolstered by an explosive burst of spiky punk from set opener Price Tag. It’s an apt place to start, given its placing on No Cities…, but it also sets the trio’s agenda for this evening: in the 10 years passed, they haven’t lost an ounce of their musical or physical ferocity. Oh! and Fangless follow, surely to remind fans that this isn’t simply another 1990s indie-rock reunion. With a new album to plug – and one that marks a legitimate return to form – it’s No Cities… which steals the majority of tonight’s setlist.
However, it’s when Sleater-Kinney turn back to their heritage hits that they really come alive. The chemistry between the trio is amplified as they ditch new for old with The End Of You, an offering from 1999’s The Hot Rock, before burning through frantic, yelped turns from Dig Me Out (Turn It On, Words And Guitar) and One Beat (One Beat, Sympathy). When Brownstein and Tucker’s vocals connect on their various outings from The Woods (What’s Mine Is Yours, Rollercoaster, Modern Girl) it’s an intoxicating, comfortable nostalgia that they create. But it’s the thumping introduction of Entertain that marks the set’s highlight, with all of its pounding urgency intact.
Tucker leads the group as they re-emerge for an encore that whisks us through a blistering five-song stint which delves into sure-fire crowd pleasers. The only nod to the (inexplicably) otherwise neglected All Hands On The Bad One rears its head in Youth Decay, while Dig Me Out provides the ultimate in sing-along finales. With a summer of festival appearances ahead of them, it seems Sleater-Kinney might just be easing themselves back into this for the long-haul – or so we can hope. Tonight’s performance just proves that they might have been gone, but they were always far from forgotten.