Describing something as ‘a great reunion album’ tends to be as backhanded a compliment as describing an acquaintance’s plastic surgery as, “barely noticeable,” if you can tell at a glance, it probably wasn’t worth it. Yet in 2015 Sleater-Kinney managed to defy that particular piece of damning faint praise by unleashing an album (No Cities To Love) that could only be described as great with a capital G; accept no substitutes, and the newly released Sleater Kinney Live In Paris recorded during the victory lap tour for that album should serve as a perfect introduction for casual listeners and anyone not aware of the band’s impact on the last two decades of indie rock.
For the uninitiated Sleater-Kinney are a three-piece all-girl ensemble who rose from the ashes of the Riot Grrrl movement in 1995 armed with a furious twin guitar attack. The band, always critical darlings, if never a household name, unleashed a string of classic albums between 1996-2006, each more nuanced than the one before, anchored with fiercely polemical views on gender and politics and tied together with a sly sense of humour. They also delivered balls (ovaries?) to the wall rocking that kicked most of their better known (and male) peers up and down the street.
After 2006’s The Woods (a career highlight) the band unexpectedly called it a day, leaving indie rock drowning in a quagmire of beards, acoustic guitars and overly sensitive young men that we are still trying to claw our way out of to this day. Sleater-Kinney explosively returned with No Cities To Love in secret over the course of 2014, less of an album than a breakneck ride of 10 white-knuckle songs that simultaneously felt densely packed and ready to explode, many of which get pride of place on Live In Paris. The live album comes with a taut feel that belies its thirteen-track running length. Choice cuts from No Cities to Love seemed to have been plucked specifically for their urgency whether snarling at the high cost of low prices of the simmering opener Price Tag or the never-more-danceable Surface Envy being cases in point, and the approach to the rest of the back catalogue follows a similar tack. 1997’s Dig Me Out was an almost exclusively breakneck affair, so it’s no surprise to see both the title track and “Turn It On” included, but more gripping still is Start Together , the opener from The Hot Rock that set the tone for that album’s nervy atmospherics and is even tenser in its live form, with Corin Tucker’s vocals battling hectic overlapping guitars for prominence.
Live In Paris finds Sleater Kinney tearing through their back-catalogue like a rabid wolf, frenzied but never sacrificing their pop sensibility, with the kind of brio that bands half their age would give their eye teeth for. The obvious downside of being a band with serious history however is that fans who prefer the old stuff are probably always going to be a given. Considering that Sleater-Kinney were playing fan favourites like Little Babies, Words and Guitar and You’re No Rock and Roll Fun on the 2015 tour their absence on the album feels a little hard to explain, when placed next to some of the selections from No Cities To Love. This is a minor gripe though, Live At Paris’s quicksilver assault and witty lyrics should draw in the olds fans and serve as the perfect primer for the neophyte.