OAKLAND — The anticipation for the founding members of Sleater-Kinney, Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, was understandable. Aside from a handful of festival gigs, the band hasn’t toured the U.S. since 2015. The audience at the Fox Theater was also probably a little apprehensive given departure of longtime drummer Janet Weiss from the the Olympia, Wash. band.
On the first of two nights in Oakland, supporting St.-Vincent-produced album The Center Won’t Hold, Sleater-Kinney explored a cleaner, more synthesizer-heavy sound.
The clanging, electronic percussion of the title track opened the set. The stage was starkly lit by columns of white light arranged in front of and behind the musicians, which included touring drummer Angie Boylan and two multi-instrumentalists. Half-way through the song, the programmed, metallic percussion gave way to Brownstein’s power chords and Boylan’s propulsive drumming. Luckily for Sleater-Kinney fans, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The multi-instrumentalists, Katie Harkin and Toko Yasuda, flanked the band and augmented their sounds with additional keyboard, guitar and bass. Tucker, who has previously served as the band’s bassist, stuck to guitar for most of the night.
The band drew extensively from its latest album, next launching into “Hurry On Home” with Brownstein, Tucker and Harkin on guitar. Much like the title track, the verses gave way to Brownstein’s guitar pyrotechnics during the chorus, replete with guitar hero moves. On “The Future is Here,” futuristic and synthesized low notes filled the sold-out room as the guitars took a supporting role. “Reach Out” had a decisively new wave vibe with the keyboard parts, before giving way to ’80s metal-style harmonized lead guitar playing, punctuated by a high kick from Brownstein.
The crowd loved the chaotic noise that ended “RUINS.” But the biggest reactions were reserved for the band’s older material. The angular guitar intro and slow-growing intensity of “Jumpers,” from 2004’s soundtrack for “The L Word” was well-received. Other favorites included “Bury Our Friends,” from the 2015 album No Cities To Love, and the spaghetti Western punk of the title track from 2000’s All Hands on a Bad One.
Following the sinewy and bluesy guitar riffing of “What’s Mine Is Yours,” off 2005’s The Woods, Brownstein spoke about the importance of “showing up” whether for friends, family or at a polling place, “to vote out people for moral cowardice.”
This message of participation was put to action with a voter registration table in the lobby, as well as participation from The Pacific Center, the oldest LGBT organization in the Bay Area.
Harkin and Yasuda left the stage for “One More Hour,” from 1997 album Dig Me Out. The song seemed to be the perfect distillation of Sleater-Kinney’s songwriting prowess: herky-jerky verses peppered with Brownstein’s awkwardly funky guitar playing, becoming fluid and graceful during the anthemic chorus. Tucker’s voice at times seemed to overpower the monitors. At other times she sounded a bit like Bjork.
The other musicians returned as the band struck up new guitar-centric Americana tune “Restless,” with Tucker and Brownstein’s voices creating a powerful and melancholic harmony. “LOVE” and “Can I Go On,” also from the new album, again showcased the band’s dynamism.
As Sleater-Kinney ran through”Animal,” its latest single, Tucker removed her guitar and stood at the center of the stage rocking some dance moves vaguely reminiscent of Belinda Carlisle from her days leading The Go-Go’s in the ’80s. Brownstein then delivered a moving rendition of “The Dog/The Body,” which was delicate and gentle.
The band changed gears and concluded with the all-out rocker “Entertain,” from the 2005 album of the same name. Brownstein hugged Tucker mid-song while the guitar squealed with feedback. Fans went crazy as Brownstein and Tucker screamed the numerical outro “1-2-3!”
For an encore, Brownstein sat at a keyboard and played the beautiful piano part from new tune “Broken” while Tucker sang. The song’s reference to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony during the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which Tucker sang with an upraised fist, drew a huge cheer from the crowd. Following the mellow song, Sleater-Kinney concluded with three rockers: “Modern Girl” (which elicited the night’s loudest reaction), “Youth Decay,” (from All Hands on the Bad One) and “Dig Me Out” (from the band’s self-titled 1997 album).
While Sleater-Kinney is exploring some news sounds, fans seemed happily amenable to this, so long as some of the old rockers remained.
The concert began with an opening set by KAINA, led by 23-year-old Chicago singer-songwriter Kaina Castillo. She and her band played a set that combined jazz, hip-hop, R&B and even some bolero. Dressed in all black and wearing a beautifully bedazzled belt, Castillo led the band through songs from her latest album, Next to the Sun, including the mellow “So Slow/So Vast,” and the funky “Could Be A Curse” and “Green.”
KAINA also covered “Cannonball,” by keyboard-saxophonist Sen Morimoto. The set’s highlight was the powerful rendition of “What’s a Girl,” during which drummer Ryan Person delivered a bombastic solo as Castillo urged the crowd to cheer Person to even greater levels of intensity.