Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Not The Drama You've Been Craving

Well it wasn't a huge surprise after Carrie talked publicly about how she "played every show like it was her last because as far as she was concerned it was." Not a huge surprise after Corin talked about wanting to be a more full-time mother and back away from rock and roll. Not a huge surprise after Janet talked about the difficulties of trying to talk Corin back into the band, the hardships of making The Woods and the negative energy surrounding the entire process. And didn't Corin warn everyone early on that she wasn't always for the spotlight - singing "You've got me -- for now" in "Dig Me Out"? But none of that cushions the blow of hearing that Sleater-Kinney has officially broken up.

I suppose this is the point where I start to wax poetic about the band's great achievements but if they aren't self-evident to you at this point I don't know what to say. I don't feel the need to defend or reinforce the obvious fact that they were the best band of their generation, both in the studio and on stage. Being an all-women group and staying on an indie label got them somewhat rooked in the critical sweepstakes but whatever. Quality will out. There isn't a single album in their catalog that is less than excellent and they produced three bonafide masterpieces, at the very least. And anyone who saw them live knows the passion and energy they put into every single show they played. They were an all-or-nothing band and I never once saw them come up short.

My favorite memory was of their show at The Cooler in NYC, their first tour with Janet and before Dig Me Out was released. The place was packed to the gills and so hot that I could barely see for the sweat pouring down my forehead. But the performance was so powerful that the band seemed to knock me out of my body, leaving no room for intruding physical sensations, demanding and grabbing every ounce of attention. As soon as the song stopped I was immediately back in the room, drenched in sweat, jostled by bodies on all sides, uncomfortable as hell, but then the next song began and I was completely transported. Or maybe just completely subsumed by the sound. Rarely have I ever been so blissfully and forcefully enveloped by music.

For a long time Sleater-Kinney was the music I reached for when I was having bad days, when I needed inspiration, when I was feeling euphoric. It was music that demanded and delivered a huge emotional commitment - and it was up to whatever high or low you could throw at it. As a band, Sleater-Kinney always seemed to work at a higher and keener emotional pitch than their peers. If I rarely could attain that pitch myself, their music served as a benchmark to strive towards. A reminder of the creative and interpersonal intensity you might still summon in this age of easy irony.

A year after The Cooler show, I saw the band headline at Tramps. Afterwards, my friend Jeff told me the quintessential Sleater-Kinney story: "I was standing next to the stage when Carrie announced the next song was 'Little Mouth.' Somebody nearby started to scream with excitement. And then I realized it was me."


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