A couple of nights ago, during one of my incessant vivid dreams, I found myself at some function or another with Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney. In the dream, Janet had already been excised from the band, yet things seemed congenial enough.
I saw them on New Year's Eve, December 31, 2016. It was my 15th S-K show, the third since their long hiatus. It was the first, and likely the last, New Year's Eve show I attended, and we had a blast. I've seen two post-Janet S-K shows, and they were OK, but Janet meant so much to my feelings for the band that those shows were reduced to "just another concert", quite a drop from when I would see what was my favorite band of the past 20 years.
So that New Year's Eve show five years ago remains the last time I saw the Corin-Carrie-Janet version of the band, which will always be the one that matters to me. It's not as bad as when The Who continued after Keith Moon died, but the way it ended still makes me sad.
I wrote about the show here, if you want to get my immediate reaction. I went with Elisa Salasin, who among her many talents is an incomparable photographer. We have two of her photos from that night framed on the wall of the entrance hall of our house. Here is one:
Here they are, shot by the incredible Admiral Needa, performing one of my live favorites, "Let's Call It Love", sliding into "Entertain", before counting down the seconds until the New Year:
Honestly, it makes me wanna cry seeing Janet behind those drums for what would be my last time.
Quick comments. Sleater-Kinney is touring as an opening act for Wilco, and their show at Red Rocks was streamed for $20.
First, the back-up band. And that's what they were. There's a bass player who is superfluous, mostly just playing what Corin plays on the guitar. Drummer knew all of Janet's parts and played them well ... it's not his fault I miss her so much. Keyboard player ... well, it was a nice addition.
Then there was Fabi Reyna. Her guitar work was different enough from Carrie's to distinguish itself, and very much in the S-K mode. She added the background vocals that used to fall to Janet (sigh), and she was an active presence onstage. Easily the best part of this back-up band.
Corin and Carrie were very good. The song selection was the same from their show five days ago, although they moved "Bury Our Friends" down the setlist. Nothing older than "One Beat", although there were four songs from The Woods. The new stuff sounded fine, and I've grown to like the previous album. Still, the highlights for me were the old ones.
Path of Wellness High in the Grass Hurry On Home Price Tag Down the Line What's Mine Is Yours Can I Go On Shadow Town Worry With You Reach Out Jumpers Bring Mercy Bury Our Friends Complex Female Characters Surface Envy Modern Girl A New Wave One Beat Entertain
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Oakland Coliseum, July 1974. Another Day on the Green show, with CSN&Y headlining. It was part of an ill-fated reunion tour from the oft-squabbling bandmates, one that didn't go well from their perspective, although it was financially successful (at least before the spending on drugs and the like). From our seats far into the upper deck of the Coliseum, their performance was disappointing, especially the acoustic segments. We preferred The Band, not just that afternoon but in general. Forty years later, they released CSNY 1974, a compilation of several shows from the tour. Here is an entire show from Wembley (I've started the video well into the concert, with "Don't Be Denied"):
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, maybe the Kabuki Theater, sometime in the early 1980s? I include this, even though I can't remember the venue or the date, so I can retell a favorite anecdote. I'd won the tickets on the local college radio station and invited a friend along. This was early in the period when computers became an integral part of band performances, and I admit I was a bit too rockist to appreciate that tendency. So while it put a damper on the concert, I admit I thought it was funny that after a couple of songs, they announced that they would have to stop playing for a bit to fix a computer. In fairness, when they finally returned, they busted their ass to connect with the crowd. But I'll always think of it as the Night the Computers Died. Here is the video from one of my favorites of their songs:
Sleater-Kinney, Great American Music Hall, Greek Theatre, Fillmore Auditorium, Warfield Theater, Masonic Auditorium, Fox Theater, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2015, 2016, 2019. Not sure there's much I can add to all I have written about them in the past ... this link will take you to every blog post with the tag "Sleater-Kinney". As of this writing I have seen them 17 times, second only to Bruce Springsteen. I love them, and I miss Janet Weiss. Here they are in Paris in 2015, a month or so before we saw them for the first time in nine years:
Everyone else is doing it, and it seems like a nice sidebar to recent Music Friday posts about concerts.
First concert: Judy Collins, Berkeley Community Theater, March 4, 1967.
Last concert: Sleater-Kinney, Fox Theater, Oakland, November 17, 2019.
Best concert: Bruce Springsteen, Winterland, San Francisco, December 15, 1978.
Worst concert: Edgar Winter, San Diego, September, 1975. Brother Johnny was also on the bill, but we left before he came on. Sound was awful, so I can't really say how good/bad Edgar was.
Loudest concert: Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Cow Palace, San Francisco, October 22, 1978. This was the concert filmed for the movie Rust Never Sleeps.
Seen the most: Bruce Springsteen (36 times), Sleater-Kinney (17 times), Lou Reed (a lot), Prince (6), Pink (6), The Clash (5).
Most surprising: Probably an opening act, since by definition I didn't expect much out of them. Examples that come to mind: Rockpile (1979 opening for Blondie), The Gossip (2000? opening for Sleater-Kinney), Matt Nathanson (2006 opening for Pink at the Fillmore).
Next concert: Whatever it is, I fear it will be virtual.
Wish I could have seen: Elvis Presley, '68 Comeback Special sit-down session.
Twenty-two years ago today, I saw Sleater-Kinney for the first time. It was at the Great American Music Hall, which held 600. Their most recent album was Dig Me Out, which was released more than a year earlier. (The Hot Rock, which was recorded a month before this concert, was released in February of '99. They played 5 songs from that album at the concert.)
They opened that night with "Heart Factory", thus becoming the first song I ever saw them play live. Here they are a few months before I saw them:
Here is some more S-K 1998 live:
Janet (sigh) Weiss with pigtails! The first 15 times I saw the band, Janet was the drummer. Alas, she was gone for last year's shows.
How long ago was 1998? Well, a month later we saw Dylan, Van Morrison and Lucinda Williams ... Dylan was 57, Morrison 52, and Lucinda a mere 45 (she is 5 months older than I am). It was the year of "The Rockafeller Skank" and Run Lola Run. France won the World Cup. And I wouldn't start this blog for four more years.
Here is the setlist for that first show: Heart Factory / Dig Me Out / Memorize Yr Lines / Call the Doctor / Banned from the End of the World / Turn It On / By the Time You're 25 / Joey Ramone / One More Hour / End of You / God is a Number / Little Babies / Get Up / Words & Guitar. Encores: Good Things / Be Yr Mama / Little Mouth
And here they are, the last time I saw them with Janet, New Year's Eve 2016/7:
This weekend I took in my 16th and 17th Sleater-Kinney concerts, the first ones without longtime drummer Janet Weiss. Since Weiss had played on their latest album, these concerts were the first real test of new drummer Angie Boylan. Katie Harkin, the guitar/keyboard/vocals 4th member who started touring with the band on their last tour, was back, along with Toko Yasuda, the new 5th member who performed some of the same things as did Harkin. Both were very good at filling out the sound of the band, but Boylan is the one people had their eyes on. She was just fine, and of course, why wouldn't she be? The one thing of note was that she was playing Janet's parts, that is, I didn't get a feel for what Boylan might add on her own, because she was mostly just replicating what Weiss had done on record. If Boylan sticks around, we'll get a better sense of what she brings. For now, no harm no foul.
What really stood out was how much Janet's absence turned Sleater-Kinney into a two-piece, Corin and Carrie with three backup musicians. While the two stars interacted as much as ever, there was little crossover into the Backup Three, and you realized how Janet was more than just a great drummer, she was an integral part of the band. Boylan could play Janet's licks, but S-K didn't really bother to replace Weiss as part of a trio. They just played like a duo, which is how they started, so I guess it wasn't that odd.
Other than that, there was nothing particularly new at these shows. Well, each night they played every song from the new album, but the key was still Corin's otherworldly vocals and Carrie's rock star charisma and idiosyncratic guitar work. I have never seen Carrie smile so much, and with her large mouth covered in red lipstick, those smiles were hard to miss. Both of them were having so much fun, and after reading Carrie's memoir and finding out how miserable she often was, it was something of a relief to know she has hopefully gotten past that.
Reviewing The Center Won't Hold, I wrote, "Ultimately, we may not know just how good The Center Won’t Hold is until later in Sleater-Kinney’s career. I want to see these new songs live, mixed in with older classics, and to see how they work with a new drummer. I want to check in a few albums down the road when it will be clearer whether The Center Won’t Hold began a new, positive, direction for the band or marked a dead end. It’s an album where 'I’m not sure I wanna go on at all' co-exists with 'Tired of bein’ told that this should be the end'." Now I've seen them live, and the best of the songs are already integrated firmly into the live set. To that extent, The Center Won't Hold is established as part of S-K history, no matter how different it sounds from their earlier albums. What I can't tell yet is how many of those new songs will still feel vital down the road, the way classics like "Jumpers" and "One More Hour" and "Entertain" and "Modern Girl" continue to resonate today. But that the band is this far along in their journey, and they are still relevant, is remarkable in the rock world.
They did me the favor of playing "Youth Decay" on Saturday ... I had been bugging them on Twitter to do so, not that I got their attention. It has always been my favorite Janet song, so for me, it was a real test of Angie Boylan, and again, she played the Janet part accurately. They were a bit more talkative the first night, and I especially appreciated Carrie's introduction to "Modern Girl" ... she noted that she wrote it when she was very depressed, and that it is a depressing song (the crucial line "My whole life is like a picture of a sunny day" points out, it should be obvious, that her life wasn't sunny, it was like a picture of sunny). She expressed surprise that some people use "Modern Girl" as a wedding song.
The major difference for me in the two shows was that I was on the floor the first night, but sitting in the balcony for Night Two. It had a much larger effect than I might have imagined. Being in the balcony placed a distance between us and the band. It's silly in a way ... it's not like the first night Corin and Carrie were looking directly at me, 2/3 of the way back on the floor, performing just for me. But there is something about being on the floor that connects you viscerally to the band, and that was absent in the balcony. I am used to sitting in balconies, especially as I get older. But, to cite the two artists I see most besides S-K, Bruce Springsteen and Pink bring the spectacle to their shows, and while I've been up close for both of them, the distance isn't a deal breaker ... Bruce has a great ability to turn an arena into a small club, and Pink is famous for flying around the arena so everyone at some point is "close". Sleater-Kinney offers none of that. Oh, they earned the warning we got entering the theater that strobe lights would be on display. But ultimately, their entire live act is focused on a one-on-one relationship to each of us that, no matter how silly it is, has an honest feel to it. And that silly honesty was lacking from the balcony.
I suppose the #1 thing I learned from this weekend is that I am too old for consecutive nights on the floor. I loved the first night, but I was very sore afterwards, and was thus very glad I was sitting for the second night. The balcony experience convinced me I want to be on the floor for Sleater-Kinney ... my creaking bones convinced me I'm no longer the young whippersnapper who could do consecutive nights on the floor.
Here they come again. This weekend, I will see Sleater-Kinney for the 16th and 17th time. No one whose name isn't Springsteen comes close.
I tend to remember dates by the events that accompanied them. We moved into this house in 1987, and I remember that because the Giants almost made the World Series. My daughter was born on January 15, 1978, the day after I saw the Sex Pistols, and I'm never quite sure if I remember the Sex Pistols' date because of my daughter, or the other way around.
My wife and I go way back with Bruce Springsteen, seeing him for the first time in 1975. It's a way of marking the passage of time ... remember that first concert? Remember when we were in the third row? Remember when we followed him up and down the west coast? Remember when he turned up as a surprise guest at a Gary U.S. Bonds show? Remember, remember, remember? (For the obsessive-compulsive among you, the years for those particular memories were 1975, 1976, 1980, 1981.) It's understood that our experiences with Bruce have covered a lot of years. Hell, Bruce is 70 years old now.
Well, sometimes I think of Sleater-Kinney as a band of riot grrrls, emphasis on girls. They weren't exactly girls, even when I first saw them (Carrie was 23, Corin was 25, Janet was an ancient 34). This is no longer true, and their music reflects their middle-agedness. At a show a few days ago in Texas, Corin celebrated her 47th birthday.
And so now I realize they have been around so long, and been important in my life for so long, that I can use them to mark time. Or I can just use them as another example of how time flies (i.e., I am getting old). I first saw Sleater-Kinney in concert more than 20 years ago, and that simple fact blows my mind. Let's put it in blog context: I saw them five times before I started this blog, and this blog is almost 18 years old.
That first show in 1998 was at the Great American Music Hall, which holds 600. It remains the smallest venue I've seen them at, and I've seen them there 7 times. Here they are in 1998:
Here they are in 2000, back when Janet would tell jokes:
And from the last time I saw them, New Year's Eve, 2016/7:
And most obviously, here is a complete show from a month ago:
"I want to check in a few albums down the road when it will be clearer whether The Center Won’t Hold began a new, positive, direction for the band or marked a dead end. It’s an album where 'I’m not sure I wanna go on at all' co-exists with 'Tired of bein’ told that this should be the end'."