Getting Slap-Happy and Sappy at the Final Pretty Girls Make Graves Show

Die young, stay pretty.

While I sincerely appreciated the use of Journey‘s “Don’t Stop Believin'” during the closing scene of The Sopranos‘ finale on Sunday, the abrupt, unsatisfying ending made me feel like the only thing truly whacked was my psyche. In sharp contrast, Pretty Girls Make Graves‘ swan song on Saturday was triumphant, touching, and thoroughly celebratory.

Photographer Jenny Jiménez and I walked backstage just in time to witness PGMG’s rather bizarre preshow ritual: slapping each other. “It’s hard to say where the slapping originated,” explained frontwoman Andrea Zollo, “but I think that the earliest band slap was in Osaka, Japan. It was postshow. Everyone was drunk and joking around, and somehow [guitarist] J [Clark] agreed to let [keyboardist] Leona [Marrs] slap him. She got a running start, and we thought that it was the funniest thing we had ever seen. Then, on a different tour/drunken night, we came up with the idea of [a] ‘J getting slapped around the world’ photo series, like in front of famous monuments, etc. We have an incredible photo of Leona slapping J in Amsterdam, where you can see the skin shaking off his face like a cartoon. Later, the series became unrestricted to J, didn’t require a photo, and eventually became mine and Leona’s preshow wake-up/get-it-together ritual.”

Thankfully, the band limited the violence-as-bonding ritual to each other and were much kinder to their audience. Since their inception in 2001, PGMG have been generous performers, and their exit was no different. Dressed like a punk-rock widow in all black, with her shock of dark hair topped with a black-netted pillbox hat, Zollo solicited requests from the sold-out crowd, pulled tourmates Moonrats onstage to dance around in the hail of balloons and streamers, and generally sang her lungs out. Their 90-minute set climaxed with a trio of encores that included “If You Hate Your Friends, You’re Not Alone,” “Sad Girls Por Vida,” and “Bring It On Golden Pond”—all of which were made that much more raucous by the presence of the band’s baby-faced former guitarist, Nathan Thelen, and their longtime friend and Neumo’s co-owner, Jason Lajuenesse, who was ordered to take over the drum kit by Zollo.

So what lies ahead for the remaining members? They’re certainly not moping around waiting for inspiration to strike. Bassist Derek Fudesco will hit the road next week with the Cave Singers, his new project freshly signed to Matador Records. Drummer Nick DeWitt has been busy with Night Canopy, and Clark has already recorded a full album of songs by himself, and mysteriously alluded to another project in the works, which he wasn’t ready to reveal. Zollo is playing drums in Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death, who will be at Chop Suey on June 23. That said, there are more than a few rumblings in their camp about possibly moving to Los Angeles (I’m starting to think that the L.A. relocation of Big Business’ Coady Willis and Jared Warren last year was the start of a mass California migration), so even though none of them plans on leaving the business, their time on Seattle stages might be dwindling, so catch them now while you can.

When the last amp was turned off and the afterparty discussions began, Zollo admitted she felt bittersweet about their goodbye, but proud of what they were leaving behind. “I learned a lot of things over the years,” she said wistfully but fondly. “I learned that whenever you create something, it is just out there—available to appreciation, acceptance, or critique. I learned that even though I have to play music to maintain my sanity, it was equally as much for the connection to the people. I learned to not sweat the little stuff, like being misquoted in a magazine or misrepresented. In the end, none of that stuff really matters. Long after I/we are gone, there will still be this ‘thing’ left behind that we created. And that is an incredible feeling.”