With all the talk of Sleater-Kinney having to break in a new drummer for its current tour, everyone forgot to mention the rest of the group’s new lineup — which is what made the big difference Tuesday night at the Palace Theatre.
The little Olympia, Wash., rock trio that could isn’t so little anymore. Co-leaders Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein came to St. Paul with two other band members in tow alongside drummer Angie Boylan, hired when Janet Weiss abruptly quit the band in July after recording its newest album.
Boylan tightly held it together. But those extra two members, guitarists and keyboardists Katie Harkin and Toko Yasuda — the former a holdover from the group’s prior tour in 2015 — loosened things up. They thickened the musical layering while freeing up Tucker and Brownstein to experiment more and simply have more fun.
Tuesday’s sold-out, 90-minute set was a ton of fun, which has not always been Sleater-Kinney’s strong suit.
Sure, there were still some serious and intense moments from one of the prototype riot-grrrl bands, starting with “The Center Won’t Hold.” The darkly mechanical title track of the new album opened the show under a bank of flashing, strobe-like lights as Tucker sang, “I need something ugly / To put me in my place.”
Even the most dramatic song of the night, though, had Brownstein and Tucker stepping outside their comfort zone in a playful way. The former played piano while the latter walked up to the front of the stage guitar-less to sing the new song “Broken” at the start of the first encore.
“I really can’t fall apart right now,” Tucker sang, earning loud applause after the lines referencing Christine Blasey Ford (“She stood up for us when she testified”). There was an even louder cheer at song’s end for Brownstein’s own brave moment, turning in a bona-fide, spine-tingling piano ballad.
By sharp contrast, the new album also provided some of the most light-hearted, sing-songy parts of the performance as Harkin and Yasuda added industrial or new wavy synthesizers to the core trio’s jaggedy guitars. “LOVE” came off like a straight-up, joyous Devo send-up, while “Can I Go On” added a powerful pop kick with help from those auxiliary band members’ backup vocals.
Several of the new songs preached stick-togetherness and safety-in-numbers, lyrics that certainly follow the S-K m.o. of singing to the times. The most communal moment of the night came after “Broken” in the first encore when the crowd joined in to sing “Modern Girl.”
Other oldies were sprinkled throughout the set but especially near show’s end, including “Entertain,” “Words and Guitar” and (in the second encore) “Step Aside” and “Dig Me Out.” For these snarling numbers, the band often stripped back to just a three-piece lineup to great effect, proving Boylan is perfectly capable of maintaining the original trio’s raw, high-wiry chemistry. But that seemed beside the point Tuesday.
Here’s the set list from the Palace Theatre:
1. The Center Won’t Hold
2. Hurry On Home
3. Price Tag
4. The Future Is Here
6. Reach Out
7. Bury Our Friends
9. What’s Mine Is Yours
11. One More Hour
12. Bad Dance
13. The Fox
15. Can I Go On
16. A New Wave
18. The Dog/The Body
20. ENCORE 1: Broken
22. Words and Guitar
23. Modern Girl
24. ENCORE 2: Step Aside
25. Dig Me Out