Lizzo playing First Avenue again is not really news. She performed to packed houses there a half-dozen times last year.
Lizzo returning to her marquee hometown club as the opening act on Sleater-Kinney’s reunion tour, however, is something else.
“It definitely feels like a big break for me, and a very meaningful one,” the Minneapolis hip-hop star said by phone Wednesday.
Cool for how it pairs one of the most influential punk groups of the late ’90s with one of the most buzzing indie-rap/R&B stars of today, the tour with Sleater-Kinney finds common ground in more meaningful ways. What Sleater-Kinney did for women in rock, Lizzo is doing for women in the still sadly male-dominated realm of hip-hop.
“Everything that they stood for, I feel like we represent it, too,” Lizzo said. “When we’re on stage doing a song about positive body image or another about female empowerment, everyone out there is super into it and right there with us. It’s been awesome. I feel like we fit right in.”
Working her way toward Denver from Salt Lake City when she called — Saturday’s gig is the sixth stop on the tour, which started Sunday — Lizzo admitted that three years ago she did not even know about Sleater-Kinney. The scrappy, wiry punk trio from Olympia, Wash., played its last show in 2006, when she was only 17 and living in Houston, “mostly still in the church and into gospel music.”
It wasn’t until she formed her group Grrrl Prty here in Minneapolis in 2013 that she learned about the riot-grrrl movement, the great groundswell of ’90s bands with women who railed against rock’s boys-club mentality and pressed strong feminist messages in their songs. Sleater-Kinney was one of the big ones, along with Bikini Kill and Minneapolis’ own newly reunited Babes in Toyland.
“We decided to use the three R’s in Grrrl Prty because there were three members,” she recounted. When people started asking them about riot grrrls, Grrrl Prty’s punky DJ, Shannon Blowtorch, urged Lizzo and MC partner Sophia Eris to watch “The Punk Singer,” a documentary on Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna.
“We saw it and were deeply inspired by Kathleen, and then everything snowballed from there. I really educated myself on all that, and of course that’s when I got into Sleater-Kinney. It’s so cool that these groups are coming back. I can’t wait to see Babes in Toyland, too.”
It’s not yet clear how, but Sleater-Kinney did know about Lizzo. When the rapper announced a month ago via Twitter she would be joining their tour, guitarist/co-vocalist Carrie Brownstein replied in a retweet, “We can’t wait. Thanks for joining us.”
Lizzo also is a fan of Brownstein’s other, now more famous project, “Portlandia,” the hit IFC TV comedy series in which she stars opposite “Saturday Night Live” alum Fred Armisen.
Three shows in, it sounds like they’ve become fast friends. “Carrie is just naturally funny that way,” she said. “It was their tour manager’s birthday last night, so we were all back there eating cake, and she was cracking us up so bad my abs hurt.”
The shows themselves have also been hard-hitting: “Corin [Tucker]’s voice is incredible, really so soulful. Janet [Weiss] is a beast on drums. Carrie is just so fly on stage, and I love her percussive vocals. Everyone in the audience just loses their minds, and they scream the lyrics.
“It’s been amazing to meet their fans every night and hear their stories. All the younger girls have especially been sweet. The people who come out aren’t just fans, they’re more like members of a certain culture. This show means so much to them, so it makes it that much more special and deep that they would even pay attention to the opening act, much less be into us like they have.”
The only downside to Lizzo joining the tour — if there is one — is that it further delays the follow-up to her debut album, “Lizzobangers,” already a year and a half old, and other recording projects. She continues to get offers to play overseas festivals and other opening gigs, including a U.K. trek with Chvrches.
“The way things have been happening, something new keeps coming along, so we’ve learned to just not plan far out and get in recording when we can,” she said, coyly adding, “Come out to the show, and you’ll see what we’ve been working on.”
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