Ever since Sleater-Kinney announced they were going on indefinite hiatus at the conclusion of their current tour -- which wraps with a hometown show in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 11 -- the press has taken the opportunity to pontificate on the meaning of the band. Whether claiming Sleater-Kinney as a pioneering feminist-inspired band, pointing out that it was the only act left from the early-'90s Pacific Northwest rock explosion still making relevant music (as Carlene Bauer did in these very pages) or even sending heartfelt "Best American Punk Band Ever" mash notes, a few too many writers gave space to the kind of distinctions -- political, geographical, categorical -- that always melt away in the heat of the music, leaving behind the only aspect of any band that matters, the one that Wednesday night's concert in New York confirmed: Sleater-Kinney rock, hard.
Playing a set that drew heavily from the band's most recent album, 2005's "The Woods," Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker (both on guitars and vocals) and Janet Weiss (drums) proved that their imminent hiatus has nothing to do with any diminished intensity or passion. Weiss' drumming manages to be both nimble and floor-shakingly heavy at the same time. Tucker wails like Robert Plant wishes he still could, and her and Brownstein's guitars weave taut, catchy lines over and around each other -- when they're not busting out big, meaty riffs. You can tell the girls have a galvanizing effect on one another, pushing each other to greater heights with their sensitivity and responsiveness. The sound of Weiss matching Brownstein's improvisatory guitar detonations (special shout-out here -- nobody in the past 30 years has worn the windmilling, jump-kicking banner of guitar hero with more natural panache than Brownstein) with crashing cymbal work of her own on "Let's Call It Love" is the rare sound of a band at the peak of its powers, making the kind of explosive, intuitive rock 'n' roll that Zeppelin and the Who used to make. And just like those two bands, it's Sleater-Kinney's sound that will linger, long after all the supposed cultural meanings have faded away.
-- David Marchese