"Will heat stroke for Sleater-Kinney." One DIY fan had Sharpied this message of dedication on a plain white T she wore to the Aug. 2 Sleater-Kinney show at New York's Webster Hall -- the band's final
"Will heat stroke for Sleater-Kinney." One DIY fan had Sharpied this message of dedication on a plain white T she wore to the Aug. 2 Sleater-Kinney show at New York's Webster Hall -- the band's final performance in the Big Apple and among its very last anywhere.
Unfortunately, several members of the audience likely did meet a fate along those lines that evening, when the club's air conditioners seemed either overwhelmed or underutilized in the 100-plus degree heat baking both the pavement outside and the legions of powerless S-K followers inside.
But if heat stroke was the price to be paid for catching one of the very best live acts of the last decade as it closed in on an "indefinite hiatus," it didn't seem too high. Through sweat and, inevitably, some tears, the 2,000 souls stuck inside Webster Hall's inner Hell were all too happy to suffer.
Indeed, the entire evening felt not only celebratory, but triumphant. Many had come to mourn the loss of this influential trio from Portland, Ore., but it would prove near impossible to do so in the face of the band's powerhouse performance, S-K rallying itself and its audience to overcome oppressive heat and conflicting emotions and concentrate on the good: One More Hour -- or in this case, two -- together.
The battle cry appropriately commenced with "Start Together" (sample lyric: "everything's changing") from the under-appreciated 1999 release "The Hot Rock." The women of Sleater-Kinney leapt right in, Corin Tucker's fiery wail armed and engaged, Carrie Brownstein's red SG tightly wound and Janet Weiss' signature stomp authoritative and alert. Then it was on to "The Fox," the monstrous first track of what turned out to be the band's swan song, 2005's "The Woods." With amps at 11 and the sonic roar wrapped in thick layers of fuzz and distortion, the song served as a thunderous wake-up call to anyone who questioned the trio's potency. In this setting, "The Fox" served much the same purpose, quickly putting an end to any misconceptions the show would be a greatest hits parade or a timid farewell.
"The Drama You've Been Craving" seemed a response to the sauna-like conditions inside the club, with its lyrical riff "burn it down / it's so hot / it's so hot, hot." It also gave rise to the first highly structured interaction between Tucker and Brownstein, their vocal and guitar lines overlapping, skirmishing, but somehow finding balance amidst the machine-gun fills of Weiss.
From here, much of the set was dedicated to songs taken from "The Woods," with nine of that album's 10 tracks covered. Highlights from these included the crowd's frenzy as it shouted the final line of suicide missive "Jumpers" ("four seconds was the longest wait"), the trio harmonies of the joyous surf-garage rave-up "Rollercoaster," the nasty snarls of Brownstein's black Guild during her abusive "What's Mine Is Yours" solo and Weiss somehow not missing a beat while doubling up on drums and harmonica for the big sing-along "Modern Girl."
But the evening's supreme accomplishment was the one-two punch of 11-minute magnum opus "Let's Call It Love" and new trademark anthem "Entertain." The former's simply awe-inspiring psych-rock jam convulsed, twisted, split open, flared up and ultimately bled itself right into the latter, but not before Tucker and Brownstein found themselves airborne with frenzy and excitement, their profuse sweat showering the stage.
The journey to "Entertain" was one of transcendence, with Sleater-Kinney's women channeling many of the anointed rock gods they've studied but transfiguring those influences through their experiences on the fringes of mainstream acceptability. Unlike many of their heroes, Tucker and company have always been a little too female, a little too queer, a little too raw and a little too bold to move beyond college radio.
The trio slowed things down once for the lullaby "Night Light," perhaps the sole misplaced song of the evening. Otherwise, the energy never flagged. Tracks from "The Woods" were interspersed with solid versions of older faves, including the climactic "Youth Decay" and the raunchy blues-rocker "Sympathy." Although the conditions grew exponentially more miserable as the night wore on, the collective commendably soldiered forth.
The set was brought a close with one of Sleater-Kinney's defining numbers, the furious "Dig Me Out," and the group received a rapturous response from the crowd. Yet the two encores that followed ultimately hit home harder than any other portion of the show, packed with several songs that suited the occasion all too well. There was the defiant "Ballad of a Ladyman," a refusal to be refined for "a hit on the radio," and the equally subversive "Words and Guitar" ("Take the noise in my head / c'mon and turn, turn it up / I wanna turn, turn you on / ... can't take this away from me").
Of course, nobody was quite ready to let it all go, and the final two numbers (break-up songs written at the time Tucker and Brownstein's intimate relationship unraveled) were now perfectly adapted to the updated context. Tucker blew the house down with her heartrending yowl on "Turn It On," a slab of rage that stings so badly because of the narrator's hesitance to release what was in the end "too hard / too good." But if the audience here had one last opportunity to vent, it was closer "One More Hour" that overwhelmed the emotional dams.
Another perfect capturing of the conflicting sensations that accompany all ends, the song is a much more gentle, though no less painful, goodbye. "I'll hold you close / before I leave," sings Tucker, and Brownstein answers, "I know, I know, I know / it's so hard for you to let it go / I know, I know, I know / You never wanted to let it, to let it go."
Here is Sleater-Kinney's set list:
"Drama You've Been Craving"
"What's Mine Is Yours"
"Let's Call It Love"
"Dig Me Out"
"Ballad of a Ladyman"
"Call the Doctor"
"Words & Guitar"
"Turn It On"
"One More Hour"