Don’t call it a comeback. Don’t even call it a reunion.
What Sleater-Kinney offered fans Saturday at First Avenue — only the sixth stop on the needly late-’90s punk trio’s first tour in nine years — was something much more special and rare. Many of the show’s best moments were generated by songs issued just before and after the group’s hiatus.
It’s hard to remember a longevous rock band that left on such a high note as these women did in 2006. It’s almost impossible to name one that came back with such strong, vital new material.
Never a household name — guitarist/co-vocalist Carrie Brownstein has since earned more fame with her quirky IFC TV series “Portlandia” — Sleater-Kinney still looms large in musical and cultural influence and maintains a fanatical following. Tickets to Saturday’s show (originally $30) were reselling for $120 on StubHub. It seemed like more fans wanted ticket hookups than romantic hookups on Twitter for Valentine’s.
Instead of begging for older songs between numbers, though, the 1,500 audience members seemed content letting the more recent tunes play out — including the nine tracks (out of 10) offered off the band’s new album, “No Cities to Love,” and the four from 2005’s “The Woods.”
Actually, there was hardly any time between songs to shout out requests. The ladies excitedly rushed from one song to the next starting with the opening pair, “Price Tag” and “Oh!,” and the other newbie/oldie combo that followed, “Fangless” and “Start Together.” From the get-go, the sound was spotless, the band was nail-tight and the energy was full-tilt. Punk-rock is rarely so professional and no-nonsense.
Brownstein took a few brief moments to acknowledge the holiday (“Thanks for sharing your love with us”) and the venue (“We maybe have never played a place as many times as we’ve played First Avenue”). The one extended bit of banter came before the climactic title track from “No Cities to Love,” which she dedicated to New York Times columnist and former Twin Cities Reader editor David Carr, who died Thursday.
“One reason to love Minneapolis is [he] was from here,” said Brownstein, recounting “amazing conversations” she and Carr shared. “Journalism and our culture have lost an amazing force.”
While Brownstein did most of the talking, in no way did her bandmates take the back seat during the 100-minute performance. Janet Weiss was exuberant, propulsive and really flawless on drums all night. The band’s newly added touring member, Katie Harkin, kept a low profile but stayed highly active, playing guitars, keys and tambourine all within one song (“Oh!”).
Singer/guitarist Corin Tucker made the biggest impression — not just because she took lead vocals more often, but because she more often than not sounded like no other singer in rock today. Her soulful wailing in the 1999-2000-era tunes “Start Together” and “Youth Decay” stood up well enough 15 years later to make your neck hairs rise up. Her slightly tempered but more precisely fierce delivery in the new songs “No Anthems” and especially “Surface Envy” suggested she’s ready for another 15 years.
“I’m not the anthem / I once was an anthem that sang the song of me,” Tucker sang in “No Anthems,” lyrics that rang true later as fans sang along loudly to “Little Babies” and “Modern Girl” in the encore.
The fan faves “Dig Me Out” and “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” — encore staples in other cities on the tour so far — were oddly left out Saturday. No complaints, though. The only vague disappointment at Saturday’s concert was the makeup of the crowd: mostly middle-aged fans who had probably seen Sleater-Kinney before (yep, like yours truly).
Especially given the lack of hard-rock bands made up of women on mainstream and even hipster radio nowadays, it’d be nice to have S-K come back to play a bigger venue with a younger crowd. But then, that’d be nice for more reasons than to teach the kids what a real rock ’n’ roll band sounds (and can look) like.
Lizzo’s riling opening set also had a preaching-to-the-choir quality, given the audience’s obvious familiarity with the hometown rap queen. If she’s doing half as well in other cities on S-K’s tour, though, the 26-year-old “Batches & Cookies” hitmaker is well on her way to stardom. Drummer Ryan McMahon added a nice, new edge to her set, and so did the brand-new song she saved for the end, “My Skin,” a mellower but powerful tune with racial overtones.
Here’s the set list from Saturday:
Price Tag / Oh! / Fangless / Start Together / What’s Mine Is Yours / Ironclad / No Anthems / Get Up / Youth Decay / No Cities to Love / A New Wave / One Beat / Surface Envy / Words and Guitar / Bury Our Friends / Good Things / Entertain / Jumpers ENCORE: Gimme Love / Little Babies / Call the Doctor / Modern Girl / One More Hour