Here's what I'm going to miss most about going to Sleater-Kinney shows: the crowds. They're fun and energetic as hell, with the added bonus of being a social conservative's nightmare.
Some of my fellow concertgoers at Sleater-Kinney's final New York show included a triangle of three lesbians of varying degrees of butchness, exchanging kisses and gropes and a joint before the show and ecstatically screaming and singing along with Corin Tucker throughout; to my left, an androgynous couple took turns fanning one another with a just-purchased copy of the band's 1997 album, Dig Me Out. Elsewhere I spotted old dudes pumping their fists to "What's Mine Is Yours," folks of all possible races and genders pogo-ing to "Words + Guitar," and Tom Breihen just being one crazy-tall mofo. Jennifer Rogers of the excellently noisy opener the Rogers Sisters noted during their set that "Sleater-Kinney fans are the best audiences," or something to that effect. It was probably just opening-act ingratiating. But even so, true motherfucking that.
"They're a critics' band" is how I started my preview for this show. Sounded good at the time. But it's not true. I mean, critics' bands don't usually inspire this much joy and pogo-ing and ecstatic screaming, do they? Looking back, Sleater-Kinney was probably affixed with that label after the release of The Hot Rock in 1999, which contained the band's only truly difficult material (difficult in the sense that it takes concentrated effort to hear and enjoy where the songs are coming from).
That (terrific) album notwithstanding, the Sleater-Kinney songbook comprises scores of eminently listenable, tuneful songs -- which, big stupid me, I didn't fully appreciate until the moment I got lost in the melodic twists and turns of "Rollercoaster" during the last concert I'll ever see the band play. Critics' band, right. Really, any rock fan can love this band to death, so long as they're open-minded and smart enough to process the fact that this is an all-chick queer-identified band whose first album was partially devoted to explaining why cock grosses them out. Oh, and then there's Tucker's love-it-or-hate-it-voice -- which, surprise, I love, and so did every other hopelessly devoted fan at Webster Hall August 2.
Oh yeah, the show. It was hot. Like steamy, sweaty, stinky hot: The heat index that day was well into triple digits in New York, and I'd say it was at least eighty degrees inside Webster Hall, maybe eighty-five. The typically spastic, indefatigable Carrie Brownstein looked, well, fatigable, no doubt due to the heat. ("There's just gonna have to be some breaks," she said, all mock-defiant. "It's fucking hot.") She came out flailing during the first song, then seemed to hit a wall energy-wise; she didn't re-rev her engine until the totally badass "Let's Call It Love"/"Entertain" medley toward the end of the first set (which they followed up with "Sympathy," which then segued into "Dig Me Out" -- awesome, awesome, awesome).
Man, the whole show was a fucking riot. As with any band with such a dedicated fan base, the most fun songs to experience live were the ones that got the biggest response and had most people pogo-ing and screaming: "Call the Doctor," "Oh!" and even -- and perhaps especially -- the three songs from my least-favorite Sleater-Kinney album, All Hands on the Bad One. ("Youth Decay": so-so on the album, totally, monstrously great live.) After watching them play for nearly two hours, I honestly don't know how they all didn't collapse from heat stroke in the end -- Brownstein dripped sweat during the encores, poor girl, and looked almost punch-drunk at times. (I'll bet drummer Janet Weiss was even worse off, but I didn't have a close view of her.) Dunno about the rest of the audience, but I almost felt bad about calling for that second encore. (They could literally pass out from heat exhaustion, and it'll be our fault!) But for that second encore they played exuberant versions of "Turn It On" and "One More Hour." I didn't feel so bad after that.
They only really acknowledged the band's imminent divorce during that second encore, when Brownstein said something to this effect of, New York fans are great, we always enjoyed playing here for you guys, et cetera, et cetera. (She also accepted a bouquet of pink flowers at the end of the first set.) It was a weird experience: I've never been to a show at which I know I'm seeing a band for the last time ever. I miss Sleater-Kinney already. As I left the sweltering building to ride an even more sweltering subway downtown, I overheard the following exchange:
Boyfriend: I'm so sad!
Girlfriend: I'm so sad!
A brief pause. Then:
Boyfriend: I'm so sad.
Girlfriend: I'm really sad.
Pretty much says it all, methinks.