To better take in the very last show Sleater-Kinney played, my fiancée and I deemed it wise to steer clear of the animal pit down front and stood in back, beers in hand. The scene at the front of the stage was wild. A mass of crowd surfing—legs a-flying—guttural screams and girls in tears. One report had it that some adoring fans had waited outside the Crystal Ballroom close to nine hours to secure their spots under the noses of Sleater-Kinney. These were the ones no doubt buckling at the knees when Corin Tucker unleashed one of her ear-piercing wails.
Peter Buck from REM floated in and out of the crowd with his buddy Scott McCaughey. James Mercer and his wife stood arm in arm. Hell, even Eddie Vedder was there to open the show, singing a solo acoustic anti-Bush folk number as well as a duet on ukulele with Janet Weiss. And yet even with all the A-List talent on the premises, the overall affair didn't feel like some swine- infested music-industry gala. It was much closer to a hometown rock show, albeit one that could have been held in a bigger venue in a bigger town. But Sleater-Kinney chose to say their goodbye on their terms, in their hometown of Portland, Ore.
Their farewell set was culled mostly from The Woods, their latest album and easily the best record of 2005. And it was performed while a sweaty mass of insane fans stomped their feet, whistled, screamed, and, of course, cried. The noise didn't stop for the better part of three hours.
Diehards were treated to a heavy shot of older material as an encore. When it was all said and done, a few folks offered flowers to the women, tokens of gratitude for 11 years of great rock and roll. Before they left the stage, the three members of Sleater-Kinney—Tucker, Weiss, and Carrie Brownstein (one of the great rock guitarists of all time)—all came together for a big hug. Simply put, it was one of the most touching moments I have ever witnessed, in a rock club or elsewhere. Then the lights came up, the people filed out the door, and we went to a modest after-party downstairs.
Great bands break up all the time, but it is hard to place the feelings one has upon the breakup of Sleater-Kinney. On the way home, my fiancée said that the breakup feels like a letdown, as if the band had gone out leaving behind plenty of unfinished business. After all, each record brought them more and more mainstream attention. Who knows where the next one might have taken them? But goddamn, they did what most bands rarely do; they went out at the top of their game and left behind one hell of a legacy.
When we rolled up Hawthorne Boulevard at 3 a.m., the sidewalks clogged with after-hours staggerers, the lighted sign at the Bagdad Theater boasted that the band's work would not be soon forgotten. For earlier that night, participants from the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls had displayed their new chops in a benefit for the camp. You couldn't help but smile. We drove home and slept the sleep of those who are at peace.