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Music | POP MUSIC REVIEW

Sleater, the thinking person's punk rock

June 10, 2005|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein pointed out a dichotomy in the audience midway through the band's show Wednesday at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theatre. One part of the crowd, she remarked, consisted of "dancers" bouncing up and down to the music's aggressive punk-rooted rhythms. On the other side of the floor were "thinkers" locked into the intellectual elements of the trio's material.

On stage, though, the Oregon band had been integrating the two aspects into a powerful whole, and in the process playing out a remarkable evolutionary step it has made recently from being a very good band to a great one -- a rare feat for an act 10 years and seven albums into its existence.

More precisely, the show revealed artists who have upped the engaging immediacy of the music with no loss of its long-standing artistic/social core. That step came with the new album, "The Woods," which saw Sleater-Kinney move from the tiny Kill Rock Stars label to merely small Sub Pop and hook up with Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann.

The bulk of Wednesday's set consisted of songs from that album, which moves the band away from the often icy angularity of past material to a stunning blend of rock swagger, pop hooks, beat happiness and guitar ecstasy.

Singer-guitarists Brownstein (playing with joyful exuberance) and Corin Tucker (whose piercing, quavering voice remains the S-K trademark), along with drummer Janet Weiss, blended an ambitious array of influences and styles, from swirling '60s pop to pummeling '80s agit-punk. The quasi-psychedelic, power-trio blues that bridged the epic relationship-chronicle sequence "Let's Call It Love" and "Night Light" -- the album's climax -- was just one of the night's triumphs.

This confident, compelling display gave the exuberant dancers plenty to think about ... and the thinkers plenty to dance about.

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