Sleater-Kinney (Sham)Rocks the Paradise on Saint Patrick’s Day

Photography by Eden Unger

By Nora Onanian, Web Services Coordinator

Artist: Sleater-Kinney

Venue: Paradise Rock Club

When: Sunday March 17th

Nothing says St. Patrick’s Day in Boston quite like a live Sleater-Kinney performance. Well, not exactly... There was certainly more black clothing in the crowd than green. But, similar to how the holiday invigorates Irish pride like no other, one thing that can be said about their show on the 17th is that Sleater-Kinney and opening act Black Belt Eagle Scout own their identities in their songwriting, and inspire their audiences to do the same.



Sleater-Kinney are one of the biggest groups to come out of riot grrrl, a subgenre of punk music — or more broadly, a subcultural movement combining feminism, punk and politics — which formed out of Olympia, Washington and the greater Pacific Northwest in the early 1990s. Combining emotionally, politically and socially-charged lyrics with fiery instrumentation, it’s easy to see why Sleater-Kinny found such great success when they started in the ‘90s— they filled the niche for what was missing in music: a voice for the people, and for women, more specifically. You can hear these qualities all the way from listening to their debut self-titled album (released in 1995), to listening to Little Rope, their album which came out this January. 

With the pile of Little Rope vinyls available at the merch stand shrinking quickly before the show even started, it was clear that the crowd was eager to hear the new record live. Not to say that they weren’t equally thrilled to hear deep cuts like “A Quarter to Three” from The Hot Rock (1999), though, or the opening act’s set… 



Katherine Paul, who proudly claims the labels of “radical” “indigenous,” “queer” and feminist,”  has released music under the moniker Black Belt Eagle Scout since 2018. Her and her two bandmates produce a sound that is esoteric at times, then largely grounded at others. Paul’s vocals hone a deep rasp similar to an artist like Palehound, though often breathier, and with the melancholic sweetness of Mazzy Star. 

As with any artist that writes from a firsthand perspective, bits of Paul’s identity come out through her lyrics. Songs like “Treeline” expressed her deep connection and appreciation for the land; and her track “Indians Never Die” powerfully was written in response to the Dakota Pipeline protests at Standing Rock and gentrification she has witnessed where she lives in Portland. But it wasn’t until after singing her fourth song, “My Heart Dreams,” that she began to share her identity through her ‘stage-patter.’ “That song we just played was about growing up on the rez and having dreams,” she said after sharing her Swinomish/Iñupiaq roots.

Immediately, I was enraptured by Black Belt Eagle Scout’s sound. Paul had impressive lead guitar moments, and her drummer and backing guitarist oozed talent. Soon, I realized that the bits of Paul’s identity that were apparent in her lyrics were apparent in the instrumentation, too, such as the spaced out singular drum beats in “Sam, A Dream” (which transitioned the song from just Paul and her guitar to the three musicians that were on stage performing as one).

Her last song, “Soft Stud,” she dedicated to indigenous and queer youth. She put a lot of heart (and rocking out hair flips) into the entire performance, but this song especially. The amount of pride Paul held in her identity was palpable and transferable. 



The applause was thunderous when Corrin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein took the stage. Though Sleater-Kinney has not always been a duo (they lost, regained and then discontinued a third member at different points), Tucker and Brownstein have been a constant in the band’s history. The two are venerable — as I called them in a heading above, “riot grrl royalty” —, a sense that was palpable as they grabbed hold of the audience’s undivided attention and didn’t let it go until the Paradise’s house lights came on, signifying the show’s end. 

Beginning with “Hell,” the two musicians and their backing instrumentalists radiated power. Hearing, for the first time, their songs performed live, I noted that it would be fitting for the written notation of most of their lyrics to end in a defiant exclamation mark. 

Throughout the setlist, they swapped off on who took lead vocals, each shining in their distinctive ways – Tucker, for her nasally and pugnacious vocals like in “Stand Up,” and Brownstein for her incredible guitar skills and relatively even-keeled lines of vocal delivery. All the while, I don’t think there was a single song where the two didn’t begin by facing each other with big smiles before turning towards the audience, a sign both of their friendship and enjoyment at performing.



As I mentioned earlier, fans were eager to hear both the new material and classics. This meant that as the crowd fed off Tucker, Brownstein and their bandmate’s energy, some of the best moments of the night came from various eras of the band. 

Off of The Woods and onto the setlist came “Jumpers” and “Modern Girl,” two of Sleater-Kinney's most well-known songs. Everyone in the audience sang along for the ladder. It was a welcome contrast to the rocking out we had done for the rest of the setlist. Though not as harsh as songs like “Say It Like You Mean It” (off Little Rope), “Modern Girl” packs an equal (or I’d argue, greater) lyrical punch as it reinforces the complexities of female emotion. During the former song, “Jumpers,” Carrie Brownstein went down on her knees while shredding the guitar, leading to an eruption of cheers.

The duo also had something special in store to take a newly released track to the next level. For “Untidy Creatures,” Corrin Tucker stepped down from the stage and onto the barricade’s platform. A spotlight shone down as she sang the vulnerable lyrics  — “Could you love me if I was broken?” — to the determined — “I’ll find a way, and I’ll pick your lock.”

A final big hit, “Dig Me Out,” capped off the night. The album the song came from (also called Dig Me Out) is widely regarded as not just Sleater-Kinney’s best release, but also one of the greatest records ever— in 2021, Rolling Stone ranked it #189 in their top 500 albums of all time. 



I didn’t feel as connected with the rest of the crowd as I sometimes do at other concerts — perhaps a result of the crowd being mostly about a decade older than me, or possibly of being roped off from GA as I sat in my wheelchair in the ADA section. Though not as social of an experience, the show more than made up for it in other areas. The way that I connected with the music and both Sleater-Kinney and Black Belt Eagle Scout’s unabashed owning of their identities felt almost spiritual. Walking (rolling) out, I felt proud to be a “Modern Girl.”

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