Trying To Get To You

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Farewell Sleater-Kinney



Sleater-Kinney is breaking up. Well, they’re actually taking an “indefinite hiatus,” but the indie rock media/blogoshpere is calling it a break up, and by their own admission, their current summer tour will be their last. I’m sorry to hear it. S/K have been a venerable indie-rock institution; well meaning and passionate where so much indie rock is nihilistic and ironic.



I first saw Sleater-Kinney at a venue called the Velvet Elvis in Seattle in the spring of 1997. They had just released what would generally be called their best record, the magnificent “Dig Me Out.” I hadn’t seen the band, but I’d been hearing the then deafening buzz since “Call The Doctor” had been released in 1996. It was a daytime show, in the only venue that I have ever been in that I would describe as cute. Seemingly designed for indie theater, it seated no more than 80 people and had a very community center feel to it. If there had been a puppet show scheduled after the show, it wouldn’t have surprised me.

I was blown away by their set. It was kinetic, fiery and alive, and they played like it really mattered. I hadn’t seen any band like them before. Corin Tucker’s vocals didn’t just ask for your attention; they commanded it. Carrie Brownstein’s guitar playing and background vocals made her seem to me like the toughest and most sensitive kid on the block, and in Janet Weiss they possessed one of the few indie drummers I’ve ever seen who actually played with a sense of swing. I’m proud to say I marched right down after the show and bought a copy of “Dig Me Out” from Corin. (I thought she was pretty sexy too.)

I really fell in love with “Dig Me Out.” It was everything I wanted from rock; original, passionate, sexy, committed, and I thought it was a signpost to a great and big future. I really thought the band had a chance to be one of those wonderful things that was becoming rarer and rarer in the late 90's post-Nirvana; a truly popular rock band that was worthy of their popularity. Unfortunately, it was the high water mark of both my love of Sleater-Kinney, and their flirtation with large audience possibilities.

Subsequent albums were disappointments to me. They were disappointments because the records were merely good in my opinion, not great (albeit with some excellent songs, like “Light Rail Coyote”) and I wanted greatness. S/K, I thought, were playing for high stakes, but the albums felt like retreats to me, and going insular in that way meant they weren’t going to break beyond an indie following, which saddened me. I love when great bands become popular, and I wanted this band to reach beyond the audience that came naturally to them.

I saw the band in June of last year at Roseland and while I enjoyed the show, it felt to me that this was a band on a downward trajectory; while the energy and playing was great, the new songs didn't resonate with me. Like all too many indie bands, their lack of craftsmanship, which initially gave them the freedom to develop their own unique style, in the end meant a lack of truly great songs.

Still, I can’t think of an American band that’s been better in the last decade. Farewell for now ladies, we’ll miss you, and I hope our paths cross again. You did wonderfully.

1 comment:

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