From The Archives: Not A Ritual Of Emptiness: Sleater-Kinney at the Hollywood Palladium, 4/30/2015

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I’ve always felt an instinctual attraction to things that have an appeal to be both mentally stimulating and emotionally liberating at the same time. Be it a sport, a game, a film, or a band. I wasn’t born early enough to be a contemporary of the period in which Sleater-Kinney was taking colleges across North America by storm, giving the neglected a voice they connected to so naturally and effortlessly. I walked into the 75 year old Hollywood Palladium as Fred Armisen was singing his last song as his alter-ego Ian Rubbish. I wandered through the thick smell of history at the venue, a smell that was an effortless mix of worn out carpets, lukewarm beer spilled on the floors and the mild odour of a generic air freshener blowing through the central air conditioning system of the venue. An enthusiastic pair of girls volunteering for Planned Parenthood, an organisation Sleater-Kinney has been collaborating with throughout their North American tour, handed me a condom and a pamphlet to keep me informed on how to stay protected. A perfect fit for both parties involved, especially because of the resemblance in their distinct messages as a band and an organisation. Whenever I go to a venue i’ve never been to before I enjoy looking at the ventilation ducts. I look at the decay of paint around the ducts and try and imagine all the sonic energies that have echoed through the structural integrity of that building. Be it an EDM night, or a Mastodon gig; I always try and make myself believe that some sense of liberation flows through those ducts at every single event. Thankfully, that liberating stimulus flowed through me; right into those ducts at that night.

As I sipped my ice cold and overpriced beer and looked around to see who i’d have to talk to for getting into the photo pit; Kim Gordon and Bill Nace, also known as Body/Head took the stage. Having seen them a couple of times before, I was very eager to see if their small and intimate sound bath would translate to a venue of this scale, and whether it would gain what it would loses from it’s intimacy in a sense of sonic scale. As the sounds they were releasing into the room could conventionally be described as experimental or noise oriented; there was some extent of alienation oozing out of the audience; but that thankfully did no harm to the raw connection that cements the on stage power-duo relationship between Nace and Gordon. Much like the prime of Sonic Youth, Body/Head’s sounds feed on the emotional outpour of Gordon’s sonic style. She’s still the uncontrollably raw performer she always was, and it’s a great delight to see her with an on stage partner that she feels so comfortable with. As they were playing the first few notes of the third song, I was allowed into the photo pit alongside a few other people who had cameras with lenses bigger than their arms. “Self-consciousness inflicted through an inferiority complex caused by size differences, how fitting for such a sexually aware show” I thought to myself as I attempted to both let go of the feeling of inferiority and enjoy being that close to such raw energy exhuming from two performers, whilst simultaneously trying to make sure I was capturing adequate pictures to accomplish the task I was given. What a fabulous metaphor for the “music business”.

Gordon threw her guitar around the stage and crawled back to the microphone to vocalise her energy as Nace played a few last notes to round out their fourth or fifth track while me and the rest of the folk with big cameras were asked to leave the pit as we had reached the end of the time during which we were allowed to take pictures. I paid yet another 11 dollars for a beer as the sound engineer put Andy Stott’s Faith In Strangers on the sound system while the stage crew started making the final arrangements & last minute tunings for Sleater-Kinney’s set.

Then it all went dark, and Sleater-Kinney took the stage. Fuelled by the first few deep chords of their cut Price Tag from the sublime No Cities To Love, the raw energy of the trio, joined by guitarist Katie Harkin of Sky Larkin, took over the room. With their energy now more relevant than ever, they powered their way through the first two tracks before taking a minute to talk with the audience. As they started playing Turn It On, I was let inside the photo pit and was allowed to shoot them up close for 3 songs, a period that felt both unbearably short and an eternity. It is fascinating to see the clash & harmony of energies between Tucker and Brownstein, as Corin’s energy is vividly present yet so sensitive that she can easily feel disrupted by a drunken member of the audience, whereas Carrie is just a powerhouse, with an impenetrably raw style and stage presence that you can’t help but get caught up in. Janet Weiss’s drumming acts as the core of power for the band, a force that Brownstein transforms into a resonant wave of stimulus that gets passed on to Tucker’s powerful vocals and bangs on the eardrums of the audience. It was a strange feeling to be capturing pictures of such a powerful trio so close.

Only a band with the caliber of Sleater-Kinney can force it’s audience to be swept away into a stream of awareness that demands a conscious surrender; a surrender that will allow whoever feels the need to find a voice to do just that. With such a broad array of topics to protest against, Brownstein and Co. act as the ring bearers of awareness in an age where many feel like they have to kill or surrender to an idol to feel like they have a voice, or a community. The experience of being in the presence of such skilled performers caused a thrill that could be felt throughout the room. The band made their way through new and old songs like A New Wave, Rollercoaster, Surface Envy and and Jumpers before briefly exiting the stage only to come back for an encore that included their classics One More Hour and Dig Me Out, with The Woods’ Modern Girl acting as the climax and final track of a perfect set. Harkin’s strumming was a force to be reckoned with throughout the night as she added a depth and rhythm to the Sleater-Kinney sound when a trio may not have had the same effect. It was a delight to see how well she gelled in with Weiss, Tucker and Brownstein to prove that a touring member with the right energy can have a monumental effect on a band’s performance.

As I exited the Palladium and wandered into Sunset Boulevard for a walk back to my car, I had a brief chance to reflect on the magnificent show I had just seen. The reason Sleater-Kinney is more relevant as a band than ever is because the continuous disconnection in society, particularly in the youth, can turn into a serious obstacle for individuals trying to find a genuine voice for themselves, and Sleater-Kinney is up for the challenge of giving them one. They represent the minority as well as they represent the majority. Their energy, their sound and their lyrics give consistent fuel to go on for those who try and dig beneath the surface of everything in a search of true happiness. They are the reassuring pat in the back for a generation that has big problems getting knocked down. They are the supportive big sisters as much as they are the riot grrls. I wasn’t old enough to have my heart broken when they announced their split, but I am genuinely delighted they are back. Keep your guitars raised high and voices strong for all of us cause we need you now more than ever, girls.

Photos & Words: Hakancan Altıner

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