AKA the most important gig of adult life.
In my teenage years, there were three bands that I ADORED at various times.
The White Stripes were my first ever true musical love. I saw them at Big Day Out 2006.
The Dresden Dolls were an integral part of my older teenage years. I didn’t make all of my American friends via Amanda Palmer’s management team and the Shadowbox forum just by chance. I saw Brian and Amanda play a song together in at a late-late New Years gig in New York in 2009, and then I saw an actual Dresden Dolls show in 2012 in Auckland.
Sleater-Kinney were another story. They were the first band I managed to convince my mum to lend me her credit card in order to buy shirts online. They played at the same Big Day Out as TWS, but I didn’t know who they were. They had a fun picture in the programme. We passed by their stage, then went onto something else. A few months later, they went on indefinite hiatus. A month or two after that was when I really discovered them.
I thought it would never happen.
I was explaining to my friend Sam on the way to the gig that ‘Bury Our Friends’ is possibly my favourite Kinney song, because it represented the unimaginable – nearly ten years after they had released The Woods, here was a NEW album. And it was just as brilliant as ever, and my soul ached with joy for a long time after the single came out, and then again when No Cities To Love came out.
They were touring. I clung to hope. You never know if bands will ever make it down to the Southern Hemisphere, let alone New Zealand, let alone Wellington. Then, in October last year, the announcement. I was at the Wellington Central Library. I squeaked and bit my fist, because library. It was my day off, but I raced over to Unity (approximately 1 minute away, after all) and gasped at all and sundry. Sleater-Kinney are coming to New Zealand. Sleater-Kinney. SLEATER-KINNEY. I have been waiting a decade for this.
Tickets were going on sale that same day, so I went and sat in Civic Square and mooched the free CBD wi-fi and bought a ticket as soon as they went on sale.
That was in advance of the concert. It actually happened last night. I had a haircut after work and before the gig, and while walking to the salon I was palpably shaking. I hadn’t experienced this level of excitement for a concert since that first Amanda Palmer middle-of-the-night one, and that was enhanced by the adrenaline that fired every time I thought about the fact that en route to the gig I was probably going to mugged or killed. I was 18 and alone in New York and it was the first time I’d ever been there.
I got the haircut. I met up with Sam and Annelies. We caught up over drinks and Indian food. It was an important part of prepping, to be honest – it meant that I wasn’t getting entirely wild. Just somewhat wild.
We got to the Powerstation just as Mermaidens were taking to the stage. I love a gig that runs to timetable. I’m so not rock’n’roll. They were excellent – shades of Black Sabbath, Nirvana, even a bit of a RHCP funky bass towards the end of their set. They looked so young. They lacked a little cohesion within some of the songs, but the sound and the diversity of the tracks made up for it. I was impressed. Am I wasting my life?
I was never very good at guitar.
I went to get water after they played. $5. I needed to take painkillers because I could feel a headache coming on, so it seemed like a reasonable investment. At the bar, a girl was freaking out at her friend and anyone else who would listen. Sleater-Kinney are in this building. They are going to play here. For us. We are going to see Sleater-Kinney.
I know, I replied. What that actual fuck.
This is amazing.
We cleverly snagged a spot on the step above the main floor area. So we were up nice and close, but we could actually breathe and see. I wore my new t-shirt over my dress because I had nowhere else to put it. It has animal arms on the back, like a hug.
And then, only about 10 minutes after they were scheduled to come on stage (seriously, when does that ever happen?) they were there. Janet, barefoot with a spangly top. Corin, drinking coconut water from a carton. Carrie, queen of high kicks and stage shuffles. What a bunch of babes.
They opened with ‘Pricetag’, followed by ‘Fangless’, both from the new album – but any worries that they would only stick to new material were allayed when they jumped into ‘Oh!’ (complete with me insistently oh-oh-ohhhh-ing along with them – I’m a chronic sing/mouth the words at gigs person, I admit it) and the ‘Get Up’, from One Beat and The Hot Rock respectively.
While they didn’t play anything from the first two albums (Sleater-Kinney and Call the Doctor), which to be fair, makes sense since Janet didn’t drum on those records, they played a really varied combination from the other six. Anything that I actively hoped they would play, they did (the closest I got to actual tears was during ‘Modern Girl’ in the encore). To be fair, I went in without any specific expectations. I just wanted to see them play.
And to be clear, they put on an AMAZING show. There’s always that slight element of fear that things won’t live up to your expectations. I hadn’t watched live footage of them for a long time. People had only said good things about recent concerts, but I was still worried.
But the singing was fab. Corin has a little more control than she used to, so its not quite such a wild sound as on some of the earlier records, but still a big beautiful captivating voice. Carrie’s was wonderful too, with a little growl in there for fun – and Janet’s backing contributions were always on point.
I need a paragraph dedicated to Carrie’s stage presence, though. She’s beautiful (they all are – it’s motherfucking Sleater-Kinney) but she is also so much fun to watch. Kicks, balances, shuffles, guitar up in the air, facing off with Corin – just constantly a delight to watch. Better than I could have hoped for.
And amazing, amazing guitar playing. From both Carrie and Corin, as well as the extra touring member (augmented Sleater-Kinney, Sam whispered to me), who research tells me is Katie Harkin. And Janet’s drumming – frenetic, constant, unbelievably physical. Special mention to her harmonica in ‘Modern Girl’ too.
The main part of the set wrapped up with ‘The Fox’ and ‘Jumpers’ from The Woods, at which point I was already basically in a can die happy mode. And then the encore. I don’t know how I’d forgotten about ‘Modern Girl’, but I did. They reopened with ‘Start Together’ from The Hot Rock (always has a special place in my heart as the first album of theirs that I bought), and then… that unmistakable opening to ‘Modern Girl’. For once, I didn’t seem to be the only one in my line of sight who was singing along. It was utterly magical (and a slight extra moment of delight when Carrie sung hunger makes me a modern girl, with the whole amazing memoir by that name thing).
And then, ‘Dig Me Out’ from the eponymous album to wrap it up. Lights, flash, heft, spectacular. The lights throughout were perfect. The performances were exactly what you want – faithful to the originals with a little extra kick here and there to remind you that you are in fact listening live. Everything I could have wanted.
Part of me is sad. It has happened. I don’t know when I’ll see them again, if I’ll see them again. If I were more flush with cash and time flexible, I’d be on a plane to see them at their Australian shows too. As it is, though, I just have to close my eyes, flick my mind back, and remind myself that I have actually seen Sleater-Kinney play. And that’s something that I never thought would happen.