Friday night I was at the first of Sleater-Kinney's two farewell-for-now performances at Portland's Crystal Ballroom. My ears are still ringing, and it's just as much from the crowd as from the atrociously distorted speakers - there were two or three songs that I couldn't identify because I couldn't hear the vocals, sigh.
No matter, though. Sleater-Kinney rocked the fucking house. No speakers (except, I guess, the lack of speakers that occasionally afflicted their 100 degree+ East Coast concerts last month)could keep down that kind of rockingness. I'm pretty sure the walls starting shaking during "Entertain," a bone-shattering, hard-rocking highlight approached but not equalled until (predictably) the second-to-last song of the night, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. This was a particularly devoted crowd, of course, with hundreds of people in the audience screaming notes they (ahem, we) couldn't reach under even optimal circumstances, and Corin Tucker at a couple points during the show seemed to consider handing the chorus over until thinking better of it at the last second and lunging into the microphone.
I was well-positioned for viewing purposes, and there's something about the Crystal Ballroom and it's roll-on stage that makes it seem remarkably intimate, despite the jarring sound problems. Matt M. was there with a Bolex and I kept trying to get his attention to see if maybe he could slip me into the roped-off area, but no such luck. Still, I was able to watch all three ladies very closely (and I watched, especially during the parts where I couldn't really listen), particularly Corin Tucker, a subtle performer whose embellishments largely consist of facial expressions of the sort she probably can't be sure an audience would even notice. Meanwhile, to her right, the more traditionally rawking rock goddess Carrie Brownstein jumped and kicked her way around the stage as she crunched away on her guitar or worked herself into a controlled frenzy to reach those screaming high notes, and Janet Weiss threw her whole body into her drums. (There was a throwaway line in the Voice about how disturbed the critic was that one of the best drummers on the planet now only belonged to one band... and it's Quasi. Not to knock Quasi, but mopey old Sam Coomes could get by with me sitting in on drums.)
Tucker and Brownstein come off as very down to earth, very approachable, and very, well, normal. In spite of their always mind-blowing performances on stage, they do seem the slightest bit guarded, even uncomfortable, in front of an audience. They don't talk very much during the set, and even though their music is often startling in its honesty and intimacy, there are few if any actual biographical details - on stage they are performers, who they are in private remains, in some sense, private (Tucker's husband, Lance Bangs, crouched behind a speaker about ten feet from her with his video camera out for the entire show but I never saw her, even when she dedicated the final song of the evening to him, glance or smile in his direction). On Friday they looked happy and even a little thrilled. I like to think that maybe the realization hit, that they couldn't help but understand that they had been, for a time, the best band on the planet. There was something about the half-suppressed smiles on Tucker's face that I'll remember for as long as I listen to music.