The Vancouver East Cultural Centre, Vancouver, Feb. 24, 1999
"The next band could have played a show for thousands of dollars but they're playing this benefit instead," the evening's emcee said by way of introducing Sleater-Kinney. "Thank you for not moshing."
It was no joke. Moshers have been singled out and berated at previous Rock for Choice benefits in Vancouver. Tonight, hyperactive and aggressive males dominating the dancefloor were clearly unwelcome in a 400-capacity, sold-out theatre where the cause was pro-choice and sixteen-year-old girls craned their necks for a glimpse of their heroes.
Turns out, there was no need for worry. Concentrating on material off their brand-new album, The Hot Rock, Sleater-Kinney confounded any potential moshers with a batch of songs few audience members had heard. With a heightened emphasis on vocal interplay and twisty guitar lines over singalong choruses and power chords, The Hot Rock's songs discouraged even hyper-kinetic fans from reaching a comfortable bounce, never mind a state of flailing abandon.
The sawing riff of the opening song, the appropriately titled "Start Together," did set a spark in the eager fans, some of whom had lasted through five local bands before the arrival of the headliner. And the early unleashing of the equal-opportunity anthem "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" sent much of the dance floor into paroxysms of pogoing. The uncharacteristically generic "God Is a Number" didn't go over quite so well, but the band's tried-and-true numbers -- the proud manifesto "Words and Guitar" and the punchy, Devo-meets-New Order of "One More Hour," both from Dig Me Out -- peaked the audience's satisfaction meter.
Still, the new songs offered plenty to get excited about. "Banned from the End of the World" proved frontwomen Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein are able to transfer the ambitious, intertwining melodies found on the new album live. It's no revelation to say one of the band's primary strengths is the complementary voices of the two -- Tucker's a late-night siren, Brownstein's a reassuring stroke -- but it's a fact highlighted on the new record. "Get Up," the first single, is a definite grower -- the unexpected spoken-word intro and sly chorus just take a while to sink in. And the title track is a stunner, a slinky, silky seduction unlike anything the four-year-old band has yet recorded.
The trio certainly seemed satisfied. Despite a couple of false starts, a few sloppy endings and some commercial-length pauses between songs, Tucker, Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss were all smiles. Brownstein was the most theatrical of the bunch, toying with her guitar-hero status by holding her instrument upright, kicking her leg out at appropriate chord changes, and even shaking her blue-jeaned butt at the audience while facing Weiss. The doll-faced Tucker good-humoredly addressed the moshing issue: "We know there's no moshing," she told the audience, "But we like to see you shake a little."
Meanwhile, behind the drums, Weiss was a one-woman Tai Bo demonstration, her bare arms tirelessly pounding the skins. Touring with her other band Quasi and Northwestern compatriot Elliott Smith in addition to her Sleater gig has honed Weiss into a drumming machine. Her fast, busy beats filled the few spaces left between Tucker and Brownstein's guitars and voices and grounded the more rambunctious melodies.
If The Hot Rock itself isn't enough, the trio seems intent on continuing to challenge itself. The rest of us -- moshers included -- can only hope to follow along.