By Matthew D’Abate
There’s a seminal place in the annuls of rock and roll history for the live record. It sonically says: “We’re still here. We own this space.” It defines a band, and their trajectory. More importantly, it’s a love letter to the fans.
Think of the note-worthy history of the live album. You got The Who, Live at Leeds, in 1970 (Note: Carrie Brownstein is now infamous for her “splits in the air” ala Pete Townsend’s onstage gymnastics). You got Neil Young and Crazy Horse with Rust Never Sleeps in 1979, a clearly unforgettable live record. How about the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Live at Monterey, where Hendrix shows that yes, you can cook a guitar onstage. Some millennials actually discovered Nirvana because of that famed live Unplugged session, immortalizing Cobain crooning in a knock-off mohair sweater for eternity.
But this is now. This is our world today. This is Sleater-Kinney dropping their first live album ever in 2017—just seven days after a divisive American inauguration—recorded in the crown-jeweled city of the European avante-garde: Paris, France.
Paris’s winding streets offer mysteries to all travelers, and Sleater-Kinney reminds the lauded and louche Grand Madame of Paris, that true rock ’n’ roll is the lifeblood of the arts. Paris needed the healing. This record is the ferocious salve on wounds only music can heal.
Released by Sub Pop and recorded live at the classically gorgeous theater La Cigale, wedged in between the ninth and the 18th arrondissements, these gals brought the rebel yell all the way from the streets of Portland, Oregon (the name “Sleater-Kinney” was taken from the name of a road just off of Interstate 5 where their early practice space was located).
What’s fantastic is just how good this band is live—the record feeds the ears with vital energy, proving Sleater-Kinney are even more powerful, present and up front. “Surface Envy” is triggered by a Television-inspired cascade of noise guitar. “Jumpers” rumbles with brutal intensity and melancholic brood. We know these songs, and love them. But hearing them live in Paris brings out a whole new affection. It’s a dirty, hardcore kiss from them to us.
In 2015 I caught their Dec. 16 Market Hotel show in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn on the same No Cities To Love Tour (I was a stage hand at Market Hotel that night, lucky me). The sweaty room, full of fans both new and loyal, had no space to breathe. They ended the night with a killer cover of “Rock Lobster” (with Fred Armisen jumping on the vocals, peaking the evening with delight).
When the sturm und drang had cleared from the show and the fans had disappeared into the night, I found myself at the loading exit. Corin Tucker, comfortably hidden inside her 70’s vintage coat, slipped past me. I turned, and said, “Thanks for a great night! You guys were awesome.”
Tucker nodded and smiled slyly, walking along Broadway alone, guitar slung over her shoulder, down the shadowed street. There was no rock star pretense. She, like everyone else, was on her way home from a wild live show.
Matthew D’Abate is the creator of LITERATE SUNDAY, an international anonymous writers group. (www.literatesunday.com) He loves short stories. You should, too.