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Sleater-Kinney: Yeah, Yeah, YEAH!

Who Needs Bass Guitars, Anyway?

By Petar Simich

Sleater-Kinney, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Quails

The Roxy

Oct. 14

Sleater-Kinney’s national tour for their newest album One Beat brought them to Boston, with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Quails coming along for the ride. The show was sold out, and people were camped out in strategic locations along the block asking the classic question, “Anyone got an extra ticket?”

Although it was an all-ages show, the youngest person there had to be sixteen and the mean age was around the early- to mid-twenties. The Roxy is evidently more of a night club than a concert venue, with clean-cut bouncers and an ornately decorated concert hall that looked like it could be converted into a dance hall in a matter of seconds. People crowded the raised dance platform immediately in front of the stage while a good number of others lined the railing of the second level.

First up were the Quails, a three-person, gray coverall-wearing group consisting of a male bassist, a female guitarist, and a female drummer. Their music sounded like complex garage rock mixed with progressive rock and hints of punk rock. While their songs had variety and some decent melodies, they weren’t very spectacular.

The guitarist’s singing, which somewhat reminded me of Kim Warnick of the Fastbacks, frequently turned into high-pitched, annoying whining. They tried to get the crowd to sing along with them on one song, but failed miserably, because the chorus was a whopping six lines long and very few in the crowd cared enough to learn it. The crowd was receptive to a band which was nothing special but decent enough. Kudos to the bassist for playing sans plectrum.

The transition to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs went by rather quickly. I sang and tapped along to the New Order album Power Corruption and Lies as it was being channeled through the sound system. Just when “Blue Monday” was about to come up, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs took the stage.

Associated with the current garage rock revival, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs quickly showed why the Strokes and the White Stripes have more fame and recognition. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are best described as a sonic assault of dissonance punctuated by wild and manic screams -- not that accessible.

The band consists of Nick Zinner on guitar, Brian Chase on drums, and the lovely Karen O on vocals. You could tell they were having a lot of fun, as Karen O had a smile on her face the entire time. Her stage antics included a trick where she stuck the microphone into her mouth during her bouts of screaming.

The songs followed a format where Karen O would vary between singing and fanatical screaming, accompanied by wild drums that actually kept the beat and an incredibly distorted guitar with some cool effects. Most of the songs were rather harsh, but some were a bit tamer and less experimental. I certainly enjoyed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; it’s the type of music that makes you want to laugh, kind of like a punk version of Fantomas. But Brian Chase, Karen O and Nick Zinner? What would the children look like?

One month ago, Sleater-Kinney was just one of the many band names that I heard thrown around often but didn’t know much about. After hearing numerous claims of their greatness, I decided to give them a try. Sure enough, their unique brand of new wave, punk, and pop rock had me sold after only listening to a few songs on a recent CD, and seeing them live has leap-frogged their position on my chart from “Who?” to “Totally Bitchin’!”

The lights of the club were dimmed to a purple glow and a low-frequency rumble filled the room, tricking me into thinking that Tool was about to walk on stage. The lights came back on after several minutes of tense waiting, and the crowd exploded into cheers as Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss emerged and launched into an energy-driven set of rock and roll.

The girls’ performance was solid; it was as if you were listening to their recordings with the intensity kicked up several notches. The remarkable thing about Sleater-Kinney is their capability to act as a cohesive unit. I was shocked when I realized that there were two guitars instead of a guitar and a bass, but this certainly was not a handicap.

The musical union of Brownstein’s lead, Tucker’s rhythm, and Weiss’ drumming proved to be flawless and gave plenty of jump to get the entire crowd moving and singing along. The vocal harmonies of the three girls was an incredible thing to behold.

All of them could sing, especially Tucker, who has an amazing set of pipes that showed no sign of wear during the set, despite her intense singing. Their girlish charm and pep flowed freely; I had to catch myself from falling in love with the trio on the spot.

Almost all of the songs from the new album were performed along with several older songs, including an excellent encore performance of one of my favorites, “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.” The song is either a cry for love and attention or an expression of frustration at being a girl band in a man’s music world.

I walked out of the Roxy with my ears throbbing, my clothes smelling like smoke, and a new enthusiasm. After eight years and six albums, Sleater-Kinney has slowly climbed up the recognition ladder as their music, singing, and songwriting skills have improved. They proved with this performance they are the reigning queens of rock and roll.