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Sleater-Kinney in Chicago: A Legacy Reflected in a Perfect Mix of Old and New Songs

Words and Photos by Ari Karnezis

When Sleater-Kinney released their eleventh album Little Rope back in January, they were navigating a transformative journey of loss and subsequent grief. This path culminated in a beautiful and heart-wrenching record, which may be an odd way to describe a punk album and is not initially indicative of the album's sound, but it is nonetheless the truth. 

Announced alongside the new album in October 2023, the Little Rope North American tour commenced in late February in San Francisco, closing out in Portland, Oregon, on April 5th. On March 21st, the duo performed in Chicago at the Riviera Theatre with Black Belt Eagle Scout, a moniker by Indigenous artist Katherine Paul. Best described as alternative and indie rock embedded in the roots of Native American culture, Black Belt Eagle Scout gave an almost otherworldly performance as a trio. While Katherine Paul has largely worked as a solo artist, the chemistry she has with her two touring bandmates is undeniable.

After a 30-minute intermission, Sleater-Kinney opened a powerful performance of “Hell.” After Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein took the stage and the crowd gave them the warmest of welcomes, the venue fell eerily silent, and all that was heard were Corin’s vocals as she belted the lines, “Hell don’t have no worries, Hell don’t have no past.” The band quickly transitioned to Carrie Brownstein on lead vocals for “Needlessly Wild” and would go on to play nine songs off the 10-track Little Rope album, only leaving out “Crusader.” 

Although the show did not sell out, it was damn close – by the time Sleater-Kinney performed “One More Hour” from 1997’s Dig Me Out (undoubtedly, the record that put the band on the map) and the hard-hitting deep cut “Hunt You Down” from Little Rope, the 2,500-capacity Riviera was nearly filled to the brim on the floor, with a few empty seats on the balcony. The crowd erupts when the duo wordlessly kicks into “One More Hour” - the nostalgia has set in. 

For this writer, the band playing “One More Hour” and “Hunt You Down” back to back did not go unnoticed–specifically the juxtaposition of their themes – even if it was a complete coincidence. The 1997 single refers to Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein’s relationship, which was controversially outed the same year by Spin Magazine, a breach of privacy that caused both women undue stress in the wake of their breakup and subsequent grief. According to an interview with NPR, “Hunt You Down” from Little Rope is about one’s biggest fears eventually finding them – an anthem for people who suffer from anxiety. With 27 years between the two songs, Sleater-Kinney continues to speak to a generation through their own personal (and all too relatable for many) experiences, and the duo is certainly aware of how their lyrics connect with their fans.

“Thank you for bringing your sadness, your joy, your skepticism.. your full self tonight,” Carrie Brownstein tells the crowd before beginning “Modern Girl,” signaling an approaching end to the night. When the band reached the end of their main setlist, they perfectly closed out with “Untidy Creature,” perhaps one of the most emotional tracks on Little Rope. As they arrived at the final chorus, Corin Tucker steps down into the sea of a tear-filled, beaming audience, holding their hands as she belted out:

And it feels like we were broken

And I’m holding the pieces so tight

You can try to tell me I’m nothing

And I don’t have the wings to fly

But there’s too much here that’s unspoken

And there’s no tomorrow in sight

Could you love me if I was broken?

And there’s no going back tonight

It did not seem possible that anything would be more powerful than the song itself when first listening to the studio version, but in fact, hearing it live and watching the crowd reach for Tucker as she leaned closer in the midst of “Untidy Creature” is a moment seared into every audience member’s minds from that night. Emotionally charged lyrics sung with a powerful force and energy by Corin Tucker both live and in the studio–honestly, you may not realize her true range until you hear her live – has made not only this song but her nightly performance completely unforgettable. 

Then came the encore. Starting off slow, the band performed “Good Things” from their 1996 sophomore effort Call the Doctor and the only song on the setlist from their pre-Dig Me Out days. Sleater-Kinney then dove headfirst back into Little Rope with a poignant, enormously strong performance of “Say It Like You Mean It,” which is sure to go down as another Sleater-Kinney fan favorite as Little Rope settles in as a landmark in the duo’s discography. The mood shifted almost immediately when the band continued with the obviously unskippable “Dig Me Out.” The pit went from swaying to moshing, a fascinating sight to see from the balcony. The women would finally say goodbye yet again to Chicago with “Entertain” from their 2005 widely acclaimed record The Woods, their last before their 10-year hiatus. Carrie and Corin would take a bow with their backing band as The Riviera Theatre, filled with fans of all ages, would begin to empty out again. Any die-hard Sleater-Kinny fan lucky enough to catch this tour would not deny that these women are still on top and that anyone who missed out may have missed out on one of the best pop tours of the year.

Photographed by Ari Karnezis



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