Sleater-Kinney and The Ponys--Lessons for the Indie World
J. Gordon
10/9/2005 11:56:18 PM

Indie rock has never taken itself too seriously, and that’s precisely why it’s so critical to music today. And this evening was the Indie Show of Shows (for the month of October, anyway): Sleater-Kinney with The Ponys at Mississippi Nights! The almost sold-out club was stuffed with retro-dressed slacker students, as well as older, former slacker-students from the 90s scene who found this bill worth venturing out of the suburbs and losing a little sleep over.

Opening the gig was Chicago rock quartet, The Ponys. [Ed.-Why they spell their name like that, I’ll never know. Remember The Ass Ponys back in the mid-90s? Same deal.]. An attractive bunch, those Ponys, at least from what we could tell, as most of them wear their hair in their eyes. On this St. Louis October 8th evening, The Ponys sounded good, loud and in-tune—even if their stage movement was fairly static. But never mind, the kids were moving enough on the floor to keep things lively.

The Ponys are probably doing some of the more interesting guitar parts in the garage rock scene today, and they've won fans of women-lead and male-lead rock alike with that great vocal switch-off from song to song between Jered and Melissa (this band operates on a first-name basis only). The Ponys have taken all the sloppy-seductive elements of indie, and freshened them up with slice of good old fashioned psychedelia and maybe even a shot of New Wave. It also doesn’t hurt their chances for huge success that The God of Cool Music, Steve Albini, has produced their sophomore debut, Celebration Castle [In The Red], which critics are saying sounds like everything from The Cure to Television. Whatever. Live, they pulled it off and then some.

Sleater-Kinney took the stage in a matter-of-fact way, and as another matter of fact, the crowd went insane. This all-girl trio has proved to be role models for hip high school and college-age girls for about a decade now, but that didn’t make it a chick-show by any stretch. The club was also packed with men because, after all, smart boys know that Sleater-Kinney also oozes sex appeal with their cool-girl rock.

Dark-haired vocalist/guitarist Carrie Brownstein (who might be the coolest of the cool girls), greeted St. Louis and then started in on a long conversation about our baseball team. Jokingly appalled that the audience weren’t all that into the Cardinals, she then turned the stage banter toward hockey and football.

With her golden blonde hair and cherub face, companion vocalist, Corin Tucker, is an unlikely vocal powerhouse. But you’ve gotta see it to believe it. Her singing alternates from sweet to funky-weird to deep, down-home blues and at times, the strength and energy is enough to send shockwaves across the city. The interplay of Carrie and Corin’s dissimilar voices is the heart of Sleater-Kinney’s sound, and it’s a joy to behold live. Both bands, The Ponys and Sleater-Kinney, owe a huge debt to singer Cindy Wilson of the B-52s, who clearly paved the way for much of the female vocal style presented by these bands. And it would be a sin not to mention the impossibility of standing still while being pounded with percussive joy by drummer Janet Weiss.

“How many here have been up in the Arch?” Corin asked the crowd. After a show of hands she said, “I wanted to go, but I was afraid I would vomit.”

With seven full-length CDs [Sub Pop, Kill Rock Stars, and Chainsaw records] and numerous EPs, Sleater-Kinney’s been a darling on the indie scene for some time, picking up where the Pixies and the Breeders left off, and venturing into the Blues, Motown, and other unlikely sounds for these three white girls from the Pacific Northwest.

Will bands like Sleater-Kinney and The Ponys change the world? Well, it all depends. If you’re talking about lyrical intensity and depth—naaaaah. Don’t hold your breath. But if seeing more examples of powerful, rocking women, and bands who can teach the world to have a good time counts, it’s a done deal.


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