“There are more books at this show than any other one I’ve worked,” the door guy at the Showbox remarked immediately after checking both mine and my friend Sonya’s bags. We looked at each other and laughed. That pretty much summed up the crowd for the second of three sold-out Sleater-Kinney shows in Seattle—the very end of their No Cities to Love tour, which brought them back to the stage after going on “indefinite hiatus” nearly a decade ago. That night, Friday May 8, was the 21+ show, but it definitely skewed older than that. (It was also more evenly gendered that we’d expected/hoped. Because we’re judgmental misandrists, we were disturbed to see several men in khakis.)
There were still plenty of fans with the energy and passion of teenage music devotees, though.
Before the doors opened, Sonya and I hung out in Kerns Music Shop, the restaurant adjoining the Showbox. They’ve got one of those deals where if you eat/drink there, you get priority admission to the venue. Since this was a priority show for us—we’d been sending “SLEATER-KINNEY!!!” and “EEEEEEE!” texts to each other since before eight that morning—it was a no-brainer. We spent two hours watching the other fans around us—a group wearing “Janet Fucking Weiss t-shirts totally lost their shit when Janet regrammed their photo—and catching up on each other’s lives. Sonya had recently gone to LA to see the Manic Street Preachers. She said she’d cried during that show and wondered if she would cry during this one, concluding that it would depend if they played the right songs.
“I will definitely cry,” I informed her.
Sleater-Kinney is the band for me. Like my musical soulmate. I discovered them right at the beginning of their career and right at the perfect time in my life. I’d found Bikini Kill and the rest of riot grrrl a couple years too late, but I was 16, fresh out of an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship when the girl at the punk rock record store that popped up very briefly in my suburb handed me Sleater-Kinney’s self-titled ten-inch. It is the only record I’ve ever actually worn out from overplay.
I saw Sleater-Kinney for the first time at the Fireside Bowl, the Chicago bowling alley/punk club that I frequented in high school. I met up with a girl I’d been chatting with in the Riot Grrrl forum on AOL. It was our first time meeting in person, but before long we were holding hands and crying as we screamed along to “Anonymous.” The last time I saw Sleater-Kinney was with her as well. It was 2006 at Lollapalooza and since my friend worked for a music booking agency then, we were able to watch from backstage. I pretty much cried all the way through.
I have only known Sonya since I moved to Seattle two years ago, but I’ve told her the backstage-at-Lollapalooza story so many times that she barely fights off rolling her eyes when it comes up again. I’m embarrassed by this, but can’t help it—I don’t tell it as a gross brag, but because it was such a pivotal moment for me. I watched them recognizing that I’d grown up with them and actually survived the journey.
I’d worried initially what their return would do to that neat and tidy ending I had for my S-K fandom. Like what if it was lackluster or straight-up awful? My worries pretty much ceased after hearing No Cities to Love, an album full of the energy and confidence I expected from them without being a retread. But still, what if they were bored or tired live?
Sonya and I were definitely complaining about being tired before the show started at nine—lame as it is to admit, I’m usually in my jammies by then. We grumbled that there was going to an opening act, but as it turned out we were completely rejuvenated by THEESatisfaction, an R&B/hip-hop duo. (“Oh my god, it’s not white people with guitars!” Sonya joyously exclaimed.) Their smart, sexy flow got the crowd moving and it marked only the third time since high school (when it seemed to happen constantly) that I’ve been so into an opener that I bought their album.
By the time Sleater-Kinney took the stage, I was amped, so was the rest of the crowd, and (much to my relief) so was the band. They tore into “Price Tag” and “Fangless,” two of their new songs and we bounced, pumped our arms, and sang along like they were old favorites. Of course, the energy really exploded during actual old favorite, “Turn It On.” I was completely mesmerized by the band. I’d forgotten how incredible it is to see Carrie and Corin play off each other, especially during serious guitar jams like “What’s Mine is Yours”—and the best part is that even though they get just as intense as and play even harder than any rockist dude, you regularly catch them cracking a smile at each other. It was clear that they loved being up there as much as we loved seeing them.
They really came together as a trio, harmonizing on “All Hands on the Bad One,” which completely made my heart explode and brought tears to my eyes for the first time. Janet’s pure, force-of-nature drumming skills shone on “Surface Envy” and then the band, who’d done a sweet but brief “Hi, Seattle, it’s been a long time,” sort of thing, stopped the show to pull the Janet Fucking Weiss fanclub on stage, acknowledging how many shows that they and other audience members have been to.
“As much as we appreciate Janet, and we really fucking appreciate her,” Carrie told us, “we really appreciate our fans. We do look out there and we see you every night, so thank you so much for being here.” The whole crowd lost it then and I teared up again.
That happened repeatedly throughout the rest of the show—during the powerful moments like when Carrie leapt on top of the drums during “Entertain,” exuding more strength, passion, and swagger than any rock god; and especially at the many smiles they flashed each other and the audience.
Price Tag / Fangless / Turn it On / What’s Mine Is Yours / All Hands On The Bad One / Surface Envy / No Anthems / Bury Our Friends / Rollercoaster / Light Rail Coyote / The End of You* / One Beat / A New Wave / No Cities to Love / The Fox / Words & Guitar / Entertain / Jumpers / Encore: Oh! / I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone / One More Hour / Dig Me Out** / Modern Girl
*When Sonya cried
**It appeared to be a last minute decision to play this and I fucking bawled since it will always remind me of the year I escaped the suburbs and moved to Madison, Wisconsin, with my S-K fan bestie.
Stephanie Kuehnert is the author of two young adult novels, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Ballads of Suburbia, and a YA memoir forthcoming from Dutton in 2016. She’s a staff writer at Rookie and lives in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @writerstephanie.
Image of Sleater-Kinney live in Atlanta in April via AP.