Babes in Toyland and Sleater-Kinney often get mentioned in the same sentence. Female rock trios that were part of the 1990s riot grrrl movement, both bands reunited this winter and are discovering they're more revered now than they were in their first go-round.
After seeing Babes in Toyland, the pride of Minnesota, and Sleater-Kinney, the pride of Oregon, in the same week this month, I don't think they belong in the same sentence.
Because one rocks your face off (Babes) and the other is a self-consciously arty pop band with loud guitars (S-K).
Because one has a TV star (Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein, co-star of the comedy "Portlandia") and the other has two women who were homeless in their post-rock-star lives (Kat Bjelland and Maureen Herman of Babes).
Because one has a frontwoman who wears a stylish blouse and skirt onstage (Brownstein again) and the other has a frontwoman who wears thrift-store dresses (Bjelland).
Because one band scares you (Babes) and the other compels you to decipher their many influences (S-K).
Sleater-Kinney released a new album, "No Cities to Love," to hosannas last month and has undertaken an extensive tour. Babes in Toyland isn't there yet. It just played its first gig in 18 years Feb. 12 at the legendary Roxy nightclub in Hollywood. There is no new album in the works, but a tour will be announced soon — with a Minneapolis date for the summer.
Heck, it had been so long since Herman picked up a bass guitar that she had to get lessons. Babes drummer Lori Barbero injured her shoulder in a freak accident two years ago and had to relearn how to play her kit. So the Babes have some catching up to do.
But you wouldn't have guessed it from the urgency and edginess of the warmup performance I saw Feb. 10 at an obscure club in Joshua Tree, Calif. And you wouldn't have known it from the introduction they received at the Roxy from Tom Morello, who took a shine to Babes when they were part of the touring Lollapalooza festival in 1993 with his band Rage Against the Machine. (He also knew Herman from high school in Libertyville, Ill.)
"They are the princesses of punk," he declared. "They are the matriarchs of metal. They are the goddesses of grunge. They were riot grrrls, now they're riot moms. They were, and remain, a kick-ass, take-no-prisoners, great rock 'n' roll band."
Babes proved that in concert.
Sleater-Kinney deserves props for tackling mostly newer material in its Feb. 14 concert at First Avenue — from this year's album and 2005's "The Woods," their last effort before going on hiatus in 2006. Augmented by a fourth musician, S-K thrilled the throng with a performance that showed its affinity with spiky New Wave acts such as Talking Heads, the Pretenders and St. Vincent.
Whatever the two bands' similarities and differences, it was a treat to see both in such good form. It's great to have Babes back. And Sleater-Kinney, too.
See, that's two different sentences.