Around 2 minutes and 11 seconds into “What’s Mine is Yours,” the third track off Sleater-Kinney’s 2005 album “The Woods,” a breakdown occurs. Where once there were prechorus and melody, there’s only staticky, isolated guitar. It’s a moment of orchestrated chaos, a gut punch that makes that album one the band’s greatest. At the Paramount Theatre on Saturday night, it was just one of many moments of genuine suspense the band pulled off live.

At a Sleater-Kinney show, you get the sense that guitarists/vocalists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein and their supporting musicians are pushing the limits of their material, their instruments, their bodies, the stage itself. Once onstage, they played through three muscular, charging songs before speaking a word to the audience. They oscillated from music to noise and back again, without losing control. That tension is the reason people see live music at all, and it’s something Sleater-Kinney does better than anyone.

With a set list pairing the uncharacteristically slick, St. Vincent-produced 2019 release “The Center Won’t Hold” with high points on “The Woods” and 2015’s “No Cities to Love,” as well as formative albums (“Dig Me Out,” “One Beat,” “The Hot Rock”) that solidified the band’s early sound, this weekend’s shows marked the end of Sleater-Kinney’s American tour. European stops are scheduled through spring 2020.

Brownstein and Tucker said they were happy to do it “in a part of the country we call home.” The two met at The Evergreen State College, and Brownstein grew up in Redmond — as she put it — on the “very cool Eastside.” The Paramount, said Brownstein, was “where I saw my first concert in 1985.” It was Madonna’s “Virgin” tour. “The Beastie Boys opened, and they were booed off stage,” said Brownstein, spitballing. But as things later turned out, “they did fine.”

It was a moment of levity amid dark new material off “Center” and a different source of tension — a period of scrutiny following the departure of longtime drummer Janet Weiss. In a recent episode of the podcast The Trap Set with Joe Wong, Weiss gave her reasons for the departure, saying, “I said, ‘Am I just the drummer now?’ They said yes. And I said, ‘Can you tell me if I am still a creative equal in the band?’ And they said no. So, I left.”

On tour, Weiss has been replaced by Angie Boylan of New York bands Freezing Cold and Aye Nako. But it seemed an open question whether Sleater-Kinney would sound like Sleater-Kinney without Weiss, who also plays with Quasi and has performed with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks and the Shins, and brought powerful fills and a steady musical backbone to Sleater-Kinney.


Weiss’ absence was obvious on Sleater-Kinney’s older songs. Without the former drummer’s steadiness, some seemed pushed to newly fast tempos, losing the spaciousness that once let the interplay between Brownstein and Tucker’s vocals shine. “One More Hour” is a breakup song. Uptempo, it sounded discordantly cheerful.

But some things haven’t changed. Sleater-Kinney has always been a political band, with deep feminist punk roots in Olympia’s riot grrrl scene, and that ethos has only become more entrenched over the past few years. On Saturday night, Brownstein built new resonance into lyrics like “Reality is the new fiction, they say … truth is man-made” on “Entertain,” and Tucker called out the work of homeless youth advocacy group Youthcare. Voter registration tables were set up in the lobby.

Also expected: the raucous screaming and clapping echoing through the theater at the end of the night. It was no cursory call for an encore, but a manic show of adoring desperation, and though the chorus of “Modern Girl” is highly ironic — “My whole life / is like the picture of a sunny day” — the audience sang along earnestly when their encore finally came.

Sleater-Kinney devotion runs deep, from mouthed lyrics to the Portland friend I ran into; she was seeing her third Sleater-Kinney show of the week. A particular strain of weirdo solidarity permeates Sleater-Kinney fandom, an understanding that from scrappy punk roots, one of the great American rock bands grew, and we were there to witness it. Like anything, Sleater-Kinney will evolve. The center won’t hold. But maybe that will.