For those in attendance at the Masonic on New Year’s Eve, the first few minutes of 2017 were both a time to bid farewell to ghosts and to say hello to a fresh start. Our guides into this unknown were none other than Sleater-Kinney, the Pacific Northwest trio of Carrie Brownstein, Corine Tucker, and Janet Weiss, who were performing the final show of a tour that’s lasted two years in support of 2015’s No Cities to Love.
The riot grrrls’ latest record was well-represented in a career-spanning setlist that also drew heavily on 2005’s The Woods and 1997’s Dig Me Out. Some (including this reporter) were seeing Sleater-Kinney at the Masonic for the second time in as many years, following the group’s May 2015 performance during the initial leg of their tour. The live bravado of Tucker’s yelps and Brownstein’s immaculate guitar licks lent themselves well to encore performances. It’s hard to tire of the trio’s genuine chemistry, the way they always find each other from across the stage and connect note for note with a sonic telepathy you either have or you don’t.
In many ways, on Saturday night, it wasn’t so much what Sleater-Kinney was playing at any given moment but how they played it.
Brownstein was ferocious with her instrument, dropping her head and kicking her legs. During a climatic, extended breakdown of “Let’s Call it Love” into “Entertain” that led into the New Year’s countdown, she stood atop Weiss’s drum kit for a fervid solo. Tucker worked as a perfect complement, more physically restrained but no less furious. She channeled her power through a voice that competed with the thump of Weiss’s drums and the squeals of Brownstein’s guitar and it was the most potent force on stage.
2016 was, in many senses, a year of loss. Beyond the personal tragedies the Bay Area music community endured — and continues to endure — in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire, there was a seemingly never-ending series of news item detailing the deaths of many iconic artists. For the final notes of their New Year’s Eve extravaganza, Sleater-Kinney decided to pay tribute to two of the many who have passed on in the last 12 months.
First up was George Michael, who was remembered with a heartfelt cover of his best-known single “Faith.” Seeing a band beloved for its brash, often gruff sound carry off the bubbling, lovesick pop gem with gusto was truly delightful. While Brownstein opted not to go full 1987 by keeping her dance moves to a minimum, she was clearly enjoying the light-hearted moment. Cameoing on bass was Kathy Foster, who earlier in the evening had taken the stage with her Portland-based band The Thermals.
Foster’s bandmate Hutch Harris got in on the fun, as did Spoon frontman Britt Daniels (who DJed between sets with inconsistent results) for the night’s grand finale: a sing-a-long take on David Bowie’s immortal “Rebel Rebel.” Harris and Daniels traded off verses, before Tucker returned to the mic to bring the number home. As stray balloons bounced across the audience and Sleater-Kinney-branded Hershey’s kisses were tossed into the crowd, Bowie — the artist that launched a thousand “Fuck 2016” memes — was given one last, fittingly euphoric farewell.
We aren’t about to forget Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, or our many beloved friends and artists that perished in Oakland last month, but if the New Year is a time for celebration, let it be in celebration of the art we have to remember those we’ve lost. We’ll need it, along with the work of acts like Sleater-Kinney, more than ever in the New Year ahead.