I’m such a lucky guy. Just after 2005’s The Woods, when my teenage self was starting to pay real attention to rock criticism, Sleater-Kinney came to a stop. I saw the record on some year-end lists, but foolishly overlooked it. When Portlandia and Wild Flag happened, I knew there was something I was supposed to know about these artists, but it still felt like an era that I had missed. By the time the band reunited in late 2014, I felt like a shipwreck rescue. I dug fast into their discography and bought a reissue of The Woods. Luckily and at the last minute, I secured a ticket for their show on the following Valentine’s Day; and haven’t stopped listening since.
Not having experienced the depth of Sleater-Kinney’s cultural significance in its prime, I clung to the pure talent of the band: Janet Weiss’ drum fills on [Live in Paris’ opener] ‘Price Tag’, the forcefulness of Carrie Brownstein’s screams on One Beat staple ‘Oh’, or the canvas of percussion laid around the back of ‘A New Wave.’ That said, I’m continually most floored by Corin Tucker, who always sings as if the world is ending, most notably on the live version of ‘What’s Mine Is Yours’. The composition is amazing here, revealing a third verse after a messy bridge that has no preoccupations with melody, volume control, or anything not resembling ecstasy.
None of this information is new. Anyone who’s seen and heard the band knows the power of Sleater-Kinney’s moving parts and melodies. Although the performances on Live in Paris are spot on, they don’t fulfil the promise of the concert. It can’t convey the feeling of the floor moving during the chorus of ‘Bury Our Friends’. It lacks the visual component of Tucker and Brownstein kicking and howling while playing the serpentine licks of ‘One Beat’. When I saw them play I felt the power of the show from the back of the club, not once wanting to push through to the front. When listening to Live in Paris, I have the opposite experience. I turn it up louder and louder, reaching toward something that’s not translatable.
Still, this record puts the hunger in the listener like the studio albums. The more you pull it apart, the more you want to see the songs live. It’s lovely to hear the crowd response to older songs like ‘I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone’ and ‘Dig Me Out’, though this pales in comparison to exchanging glances with fellow fans at the concert. ‘Modern Girl’ is the final track on Live in Paris. My spine tingles as I think of how it felt to wait for the drums to come in. I get the feeling on record, too, but it remains impossible to compare any album, live or otherwise, to a live experience that’s as perfect as a Sleater-Kinney one.
I don’t think Live in Paris will be the main way for me to connect with the memory of that concert on Valentine’s Day. I’ll continue to talk to friends who were there with me, with colleagues who get a glow in their eyes when Sleater-Kinney is mentioned, and I’ll turn the records up as high as my ears can stand. But, Live in Paris will be pretty far down the ladder in these instances. There is no finer rock and roll show in the last twenty years, and I’m just happy to have been along for the ride. Take Live in Paris as a hint, not an excuse to miss another Sleater-Kinney tour.