Near the end of Sleater-Kinney guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein’s illuminating memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, she reveals that her band had filmed a live set at New York’s Webster Hall in 2005, with goals to release the performance on DVD. The plan took a nosedive when the crew roasted the venue with too many bright lights, a decision that left Brownstein sweat-stained and unpresentable. “Even during the performance I was aware of how awful the footage would look,” she explains in the tome of abandoning the project. Ten years later, during a reunion tour, they opted to record the audio portion of their show at Paris’ La Cigale concert hall. Released this week as the succinctly titled Live in Paris, it’s a red hot representation of a beloved band in their element.
Recorded March 20, 2015, the sold out concert begins with a bit of crowd noise before Corin Tucker unfurls the creeping, octave pedal-assisted opening lick to “Price Tag,” the disenfranchised, corporation-critiquing opener from the band’s then-just-released comeback LP, No Cities to Love. The song brings together plenty of Sleater-Kinney touchstones: the wildly interwoven guitar lines of Tucker and Brownstein; lyrics eyeing the personal and the political; the hard-smacked, thundering rhythms of drummer Janet Weiss. The act showcases plenty of new material on Live in Paris– the manic but melodic “A New Wave” has Browstein’s scattered and skittery leads going extra wild–but the record also acts as an overview of Sleater-Kinney’s on-point, multi-decade career.
The Woods, the 2005 album many believed would be the band’s last, is represented well on Live in Paris, with four excellent cuts popping up in the tracklist. The choppily-strummed “What’s Mine is Yours” is an early treat, it’s psych-sludge breakdown of fall-apart drum fills and six-string noise making for one of the more leftfield experiments of the night. The emotional ebb-and-flow of suicide-contemplating “Jumpers” is also a highlight, the give and take between Brownstein’s barely-caged disdain (“where’s the black and blue”) and Tucker’s powder keg vibrato on “Entertain” is another.
For fans of Sleater-Kinney’s earliest work, Live in Paris also includes an extra yelpy take on meta, performance-themed “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,” and a punky and punchy version of 1997’s anthemic “Dig Me Out.” It’s explained in Browstein’s memoir that the latter was the first proper song she and Tucker worked on with Weiss when the latter stepped in as the latest in a long line of drummers. As much praise is deservedly bestowed on the founding members’ intricate guitar parts and signature vocal styles, Weiss’ steady hammering has likewise been key to Sleater-Kinney’s awesomeness ever since. As far as the live recording goes, extra kudos go to auxiliary member Katie Harkin for supplementary sonics like the cheerful synth runs on “Oh!”
While Live in Paris presents a potent, well-oiled Sleater-Kinney, there is a bit of weirdness to the release. Though there are 13 songs preserved on the concert album, looking at the info on archive site Setlist.fm reveals that over a dozen other songs were played for the Parisian fans. Some of the songs cut from the release include The Hot Rock’s “The End of You” and the title track from Call the Doctor. To be fair, a little editing can go a long way, and the price of vinyl may also have something to do with this being trimmed down to a single LP. As it stands, Live in Paris is sequenced as an all killer, no filler experience.
That said, in the same way that Kiss’ landmark Alive wasn’t exactly, you know, live, Sleater-Kinney’s concert album takes a few liberties with how the night played out in real time.
One of the few conversations with the crowd to appear on the album, barring a few grateful “mercis,” is Brownstein reporting that this was the first night of the tour that the band delivered a second encore (“you are the best,” she tells the teeming masses). While this is cued up ahead of the album’s finale, a gently-strummed, though at one point shouted version of “Modern Girl,” a YouTube clip shows that the exchange took place ahead of “Youth Decay,” a song that doesn’t appear on Live in Paris. “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,” found mid-album, was apparently the night’s true closer.
That half of the show was cut out doesn’t affect the awesomeness of Live in Paris, but it does call to question the purpose of the concert LP in modern times. While it acts as a memento for those that went to the show, and a gift to those who didn’t, it’s an interesting choice to have the events shuffled and distorted. But, unlike that old show in New York, the raw footage exists out there if you’re looking to piece it together. If you came to be entertained, Live in Paris still does its job, and then some.
– review by Gregory Adams