with Flin Flon and the Butchies

Echo Lounge, Atlanta • May 23, 1999

Now I know what all the fuss is about. Sleater-Kinney exploded from indie obscurity and the northwest “Riot Grrrl” scene to “critic’s darling” status after an appearance at the 1997 CMJ conference in New York. And after this show in Atlanta, I understand why that attention and the adoration of their fans is so well deserved.

Openers the Butchies started the show off right — they were loud, fast, and got the mosh pit stirred up. Flin Flon, a sparse and edgy trio fronted by Mark Robinson (ex-Unrest, Air Miami), continued in the same spirit. Energetic and stripped down, reminiscent of old Gang of Four or Wire, their sometimes quirky delivery was accented by Robinson’s wide, staring eyes.

By the time they finished, the club was packed and it was “breathing room only” in front of the stage. Outside the club, I had noticed a lot of out-of-state license plates, and when Sleater-Kinney took the stage to set up their gear, people in the crowd started clapping like it was the last song and shouting “We love you!” I saw more fan appreciation than at a Grateful Dead show.

They opened with “Day I Went Away” from their first record, starting low-key, but building quickly. Guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein traded vocals all night, with Corin’s lower, huskier voice offset by Carrie’s higher, operatic tones. Carrie’s songs had the same piercing power as Poly Styrene of X Ray Spex, and the dissonance and tension of their contrasting harmonies reminded me of X.

The set was made up mostly of new songs — nearly half from their latest, Hot Rock , and another three brand new ones. Janet Weiss played the drums with much more passion than her previous gig with Quasi, I think because this was more passionate music. Powerful, emotional, and energetic — Corin sings of love and pain and windmills her guitar like Pete Townsend. They’re raw and sweet at the same time, reflecting not just the dichotomy of the two singers, but the delicate strength of women. And grrrls.

After fumbling the first encore song, “Buy Her Candy,” they let the audience take over the stage to help dance and sing “Dig Me Out,” and the intense bond that their fans feel was again apparent. The crowd was left glowing and energized, and I was left with this thought: even outnumbered, in the girl power title fight, Sleater-Kinney would kick the Spice Girls’ ass.

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