Well, they’re not breaking up because they started sucking.
There’s this great thing that happens at every single Sleater-Kinney show. Corin Tucker, always tentative at first, steps to the mic and undersings for a little bit, maybe even for the first song or two. It’s like she’s still getting her bearings, like she’s not totally sure she’s going to be able to pull herself together enough to absolutely wreck it. And then one of the songs will reach its big climactic stop-the-world moment, and she’ll throw her head back and just howl. This incredible sound swoops out of her mouth and lifts up and crashes down, and she steps away from the mic and glances over and Carrie Brownstein and gives a sort of bewildered smile, like after all these years she’s still not sure how she’s capable of making that noise. And from that moment, it’s on; the band’s confidence and drive and power just seem to keep building throughout the show, and by the time they hit their encore, they’re pretty much melting your face. It happened again last night at Webster Hall; the band started out a bit more raggedy than usual, and they seemed to be holding back a bit, but then they started rolling and never stopped until the end of the show. A month ago, when I was writing about their “indefinite hiatus” announcement, I called them the best band in the world. Last night, they proved me right.
Last night was their last New York show, and now they’ve got (I think) four left before it’s all over. And everyone in the crowd knew it, so they showed love hard. “Modern Girl,” which had Janet Weiss playing harmonica on one of those metal things that attaches it to your neck, turned into a big all-crowd singalong; it’s a Carrie song, which makes it one of the only songs where you can actually hear people singing over Corin’s wail. Someone handed Brownstein a bouquet of flowers at the end of the regular set. And we got two sets of encores, both heavy on Dig Me Out stuff, for our troubles. But beyond Brownstein telling us that she loves us a few times, the band never really acknowledged the fact that this was the last time we’d be seeing them; instead, they mostly just talked about how ungodly hot it was in the venue. (It merited comment; it was fucking gross in there.) It never really felt like a farewell, even when the band walked onstage to the Amboy Dukes’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” or when they finished their last encore with “One More Hour.” It just felt like an amazing band at the peak of their powers playing a whole lot of songs. We got almost all of The Woods, the final psychedelic-freakout move that remains my least favorite Sleater-Kinney album, but those songs took on the extra heft and majesty they needed to put them over the top, and even Brownstein’s noise solo on “What’s Mine is Yours” and the long-ass entirety of “Let’s Call It Love” had a surging power. Still, the set’s best moment came after the band vroomed directly from “Let’s Call It Love” into “Entertain.” Tucker started singing “Sympathy,” the ferocious, gut-wrenching roar of motherhood from One Beat, my favorite Sleater-Kinney song, playing unaccompanied for a few seconds before Weiss and Brownstein chimed in. They finished the song with a long, heavy sustained-noise note and then segued directly into “Dig Me Out.” People bugged the fuck out. There were cameras everywhere, and I understand they were filming the show for a forthcoming DVD. I can’t wait for it to come out so I can see that shit again.
Opening for Sleater-Kinney has to be one of the most thankless jobs in the world, and I was a bit annoyed to hear that the Rogers Sisters, who I wrote off as dancepunk-revival also-rans when I saw them play a Baltimore street fair a few years ago, would be doing cannon-fodder duty for this last show. But the Rogers Sisters have actually improved quite a bit since the last time I paid attention. They have a nice taut tension in their rhythmic push-pull, and they manage to flare up into some great anthemic chorus-moments when the songs demand them. They were probably the best Sleater-Kinney opening act I’ve seen since the Gossip in 2000. Still, after about five songs of that, I couldn’t stand them. It’s not even their fault, really. I just wanted to see Sleater-Kinney right away. The same thing happens every time I see them; I manage to enjoy the openers for about ten minutes, and then I start actively wishing that they’d get stampeded by elephants or something so they’d get the fuck off the stage and I could see my favorite band. I guess that’s not happening again.