- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

Picture the all-female rock trio Sleater-Kinney standing on the austere stage at DAR Constitution Hall, playing an energetic set of new tunes to an audience as flashlight-wielding ushers were leading late-arrivals into the auditorium. An unusual show, to say the least.

"That was a strange place for a rock concert," recalls drummer Janet Weiss over the phone from her home in Portland, Ore. "We sort of walked in and felt like 'Oh God, what are we doing here?'"

The May show was an opening spot for mellow Scottish rockers Belle and Sebastian, an orchestral unit that seemed a better fit for the cavernous hall.

Still, Sleater-Kinney fans who did show up gained a rare treat: a preview of the group's new album "One Beat."

"The victory for us was that we played the whole record start to finish which we hadn't done at any shows," Miss Weiss says.

"One Beat" came out this past August and the band swings through the District again for a show at the 9:30 Club tomorrow night.

It is the sixth album for the trio since 1995 and the fourth with its current lineup, which features guitarists/vocalists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. Miss Weiss has been the band's drummer since 1997 and adds harmonies to the musical stew.

"We had a lot of ideas going into it," Miss Weiss says of the new record. "We had 14 songs and each song we had, we really kind of poured over and spent a lot of time thinking about."

The result is an album that takes more risks and shows the band evolving its style, from its earlier punk origins to a more complex and full rock sound.

"This record has scope to it," she says. "We tried to challenge ourselves musically and we had the time to do so maybe there's sort of a theme of trying to find something to live for amidst a really dark time."

That dark time is the aftermath of September 11, when many of the songs were written, and the album captures the fear and uncertainty of the moment.

"It had a great effect on us and I think it affected the writing," Miss Weiss says. "It was a dark year and personal things contributed to a sort of a despair that was really a difficult thing to deal with.

"Not to say that the record is all despair and darkness; I think there's quite a bit of hope as well," she adds.

One of Miss Weiss' favorite songs is "One Beat" which opens with an unusual drumming pattern from her before two electric guitars chime in with an edgy riff that repeats underneath Miss Tucker's passionate wailing and Miss Brownstein's sing-speak vocals.

It features more than one jab against the Bush administration ("If I'm to run the future/you've got to let the old world go"), though the attacks don't appear to be there solely for the sake of controversy. Instead, the band grapples with the issue of how to express political dissent while still being patriotic a rather weighty issue for any rock group.

These themes continue in several other songs that Miss Weiss lists among her favorites, including "Step Aside," "Far Away" and "Combat Rock," a tune that lifts its name from a Clash album, in a quasi-tribute to the classic punk group.

"I just think that (those songs) are really accomplishments for us and whether people like them or not we're succeeding in pushing ourselves," Miss Weiss says. "We really kind of got in a groove; we were on a roll."

The actual recording process was rather relaxed for the band, as Miss Brownstein joined Miss Tucker and Miss Weiss in moving to Portland.

"It created a really non-stressful atmosphere, where if we weren't particularly inspired, we'd go get something to eat or hang out on the porch or listen to some records," she says.

The band has done an amazing job of resisting the growing pressures that come along with being named "America's best rock band" by Time Magazine in 2001. While courted by major labels, the group remains on the indie label Kill Rock Stars and keeps its show and CD costs low for fans.

"Part of us feels really lucky to get the attention that we get," Miss Weiss says. "[But] you don't want someone else's opinion of you to shape how you feel about yourself. The relationship between us and the music should be untouched."

WHAT: Sleater-Kinney with opening act the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs

WHERE: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. tomorrow


PHONE: 202/393-0930

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