When You Go Into ‘The Woods’ …


I'm hardly meticulous – anyone who's ever shared a home with me is probably still finding scraps of paper between the sofa pillows – but my devotion to alphabetical order borders on the obsessive.

Alphabetical order makes for some strange bedfellows, and I've long been grateful to the Lemonheads for keeping my Led Zeppelin discs away from the Le Tigre ones. I'm not the kind of rock nerd who stands around all day pitching imaginary battles of the bands, but now and then I'd wonder: If the CDs came to life and the Lemonheads wimped out, how would the righteous feminists and other rockers get on?

If there's an answer, it's in "The Woods," Sleater-Kinney's seventh album. Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss have clearly wondered the same thing.

Tucker and Brownstein paid their dues in the same riot grrrl movement as Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna, and Tucker's one-of-a-kind vibrato is as righteous as ever. Her nervous energy drives the band, but Zeppelinesque riffs give "The Woods" a different kind of power. Overall, it's a little less shrill and a lot spacier; Brownstein's guitar almost sounds like a bass at time, exploring new low-end territory.

Just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for Sleater-Kinney to break the five-minute mark, let alone anything like the nearly 15-minute guitar frenzy "Let's Call It Love"/"Night Light," which was recorded in one terrifying take.

Lyrically, they can be as thought-provoking as Le Tigre or as clunky as Led Zeppelin. There's as much rage in the words of "The Woods" as on the most personal and political entries in their discography.

"Modern Girl" is a deceptively upbeat ditty about what Betty Friedan called "the problem that has no name," while the fire-spitting "Entertain" critiques mindless consumption.

Sleater-Kinney shows are always cathartic, with Weiss drumming expertly while Tucker and Brownstein skirt the edge of chaos. It's hard to imagine they could match the intensity of "The Woods," but I have faith they'll pull it off.

And I'd be right up front for their June 24 show at the Trocadero, but instead, I'll be in Georgia to see Pylon. After all, "P" comes before "S," and I take my orders from the alphabet.

• • •

It wasn't Ryan Adams' fault his label botched the release of his moody "Love Is Hell." First, Lost Highway split his baby in half and released the two pieces five weeks apart as EPs; in May 2004, five months after Part Two came out, the record honchos thought better of it and re-released "Love Is Hell" as a single disc. It had many fine moments, but fans felt burned.

His new one, the country-tinged "Cold Roses," is a solid attempt at rebuilding their trust. The prolific Adams – he's got two more full-lengths planned for the year – has always been best in a band setting, and the Cardinals don't disappoint. If Adams wanted to coast, Cindy Cashdollar's steel guitar could almost set the mood single-handedly. Instead, Cashdollar provides subtle but vital support to the volatile frontman.

Adams' wounded-boy schtick can be a turnoff onstage and in his online rants, but he works the wounded-boy schtick that's catnip to women. He doesn't need a public breakup to churn out heartbreakers, but it's easy to read into songs like "How Do You Keep Love Alive" and "Now That You're Gone."

Recorded before his recent split with indie-film queen Parker Posey, "Cold Roses" reads like the unsent letters of a man who can't hold on and can't let go.

This time you can blame him for the format failings; it was his call to split "Cold Roses" into two discs when the songs would fit on one. (At least they're packaged together.)

But with songs as strong as "Beautiful Sorta" and "Dance All Night," it's best to skip the blame and just be happy someone's putting this stuff out.

• • •

Live Aid was the biggest musical event of 1985, and by some quirk of geography, Philadelphia was chosen to share the glory with London. We got Madonna, the Pretenders, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Run DMC and Black Sabbath, among others, and they were all aces.

I didn't enjoy it so much; I was doubled over with excruciating stomach pains, and my mom was so riveted to the TV that she didn't want to take me to the hospital until it was over. Can't blame her, though. Watching rock stars strut to fill the bellies of starving Ethiopian kids has to be way more exciting than dragging your own bellyaching kid to the E.R.

Anyway, my malady couldn't have been too serious, because I lived long enough to see organizer Bob Geldof get over his long-held promise not to stage a sequel. Live 8 is planned for July 2 – 11 days shy of Live Aid's 20th anniversary – and Philly is once again representing the U.S. contingent. Timed to coincide with the G-8 summit – that explains the cute name – the concerts in Berlin, London, Paris, Rome and here are meant to focus attention on poverty in developing countries.

The cause isn't just worthy, it's logical: African debt relief isn't as warm and fuzzy a concept as feeding Ethiopians, but it's a wider view of the same picture. And it doesn't hurt that Bono and some of Geldof's other rock-star buddies have been working on the issue for a while.

But lest Philly start thinking it's special again, a look at the lineup suggests some cities are more first-class than others; London gets the superstars and next-big-things (U2, Madonna, Joss Stone, Scissor Sisters), while we get the has-beens and who's-thats (Bon Jovi, Stevie Wonder, P. Diddy, Kaiser Chiefs). u



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