Milwaukee Gen-Xers had two options for making themselves feel old Sunday night: SNL 40, or the Sleater-Kinney reunion tour, which made its stop at the Riverside Theater. The Washington trio released its comeback album No Cities To Love last month after a 10-year hiatus, racking up a slew of accolades without breaking any new musical ground. In fact, after the surprising detour of 2005’s amazing The Woods album, No Cities sounds more like a return to the band’s straight-ahead rock sound, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A decade is a pretty long break to take, but the band members are only in their 40s, and are bound to be fresher than, say, a Hans and Franz redux.
It’s clear that we’re not supposed to look at this new album and tour as a one-and-done proposition, but Sleater-Kinney was obviously more comfortable slipping into its back catalog than new tunes. The goal of a relevant band is always to make its new material come alive on tour and inspire fans to revisit the album with renewed vigor, but songs like “Fangless,” “Surface Envy,” and “Hey Darling” felt a bit clunky despite the band playing them flawlessly. Contrasted with the psychedelic bombast of “What’s Mine Is Yours” and the dynamic prog-pop of “Light Rail Coyote,” even “No Cities To Love”—one of the best vocal hooks the band has ever written—fell a little flat. The major exception was “A New Wave,” which ascended in a flurry of blue and red stage lights into a massive explosion of energy, suggesting that there’s certainly hope for the No Cities tunes going forward.
It wasn’t as though the new material had to be suffered through, though. It basically served to highlight just how many great songs Sleater-Kinney has created over the years, and how great the band can be live. As always, the powerful drumming of Janet Weiss drove most of the night’s highlights, especially as the set raced to its climax with a pair of Woods classics, “Entertain” and “Jumpers.” Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker kept the banter to a minimum, although Tucker did give a shout-out to Girls Rock Milwaukee and, naturally, impressive opening act Lizzo, who had gotten the crowd fired up with her remarkable versatility as both a rapper and singer. Come to think of it, despite the nostalgia ignited by the best moments of this show, most fans were on their feet the whole time. Who figured singing along to “Modern Girl” could actually make us feel young again?