"We've come to your town to talk about allergies," guitarist and keyboardist Seth Lorinczi joked after Tucker mentioned having some allergy issues. Not that they showed in her vocal performance. Tucker sounded better than ever, less shrill shrieking but just as intense as in Sleater-Kinney's heyday. Musically, her current band -- featuring the rhythm section of Sara Lund and Mike Clark -- forgoes the dissonance in favor of a more melodic, guitar-driven sound brimming with hooks and riffs.
"Half a World Away" from 2010's "1,000 Miles" got a dose of funk from high-toned drums and funk bass that seamlessly flowed into the new "Groundhog Day," "Blood, Bones, and Sand" and "Riley." Under the funk they're all pure rock. And more fans of such straight-forward, uncluttered music should have been present.
Tucker's voice hinted at her old feral howl on "I Don't Wanna Go," tempered with a quiet desperation. Her voice has evolved, no longer purely a force of anger. While the anger's still there in the occasional shrieks, Tucker's range covers more emotional territory with quiet and bright tones.
Towards the end of the set, Tucker apologized that the band was trying a new set list and things had been a bit bumpy. It wasn't necessary. Had she not mentioned the set list, the show easily could have passed as slightly improvised and musically tight. This isn't music that needs to be orchestrated; it benefits from a bit of wiggle room and the interaction of the band members as they work their way through what songs to play and when to play them.
The band ramped up the end of the set with the new album's title track, a distortion-free guitar onslaught that hinted at '90s-style slow-fast-slow without sounding like a throwback. Lund went straight into a railroad beat for "Neskowin," adding solid rhythmic backing vocals to ground Tucker's high-flying yelps. They ended the 13-song set with Lund playing a human pulse on "Doubt," then leaving the stage with the night's one drone of guitar feedback.
They returned with a candle-topped caked, singing "Happy Birthday" to Clark over the feedback's hum. When Tucker announced that there would be two more songs and free cake at the merch booth, the crowd chanted, "Songs then cake! Songs then cake!"
First sign that it's a good show: More music takes priority over free cake.
Despite audience requests for Boston's "More Than a Feeling," the band opted for a high-energy cover of Blondie's "Atomic" before wrapping up with Tucker commanding everyone to dance.
And then there was cake.