When Sleater-Kinney's longtime drummer, Janet Weiss, quit in July, it felt like a bad omen.
The legendary band had just announced a new album produced by St. Vincent, The Center Won't Hold, detailed a national tour and unveiled some glossy new promotional photos. Was the band abandoning their riot grrrl roots?
Then, on the day of Sleater-Kinney's second sold-out homecoming show at the Crystal Ballroom on Nov. 20, there was another inauspicious sign. The podcast The Trap Set aired an interview in which Weiss finally revealed the reasons behind her departure: creative inequality and the increasingly impersonal, GarageBand-and-Dropbox nature of the band's songwriting process.
When Sleater-Kinney took the stage at the Crystal Ballroom, it was difficult to deny the remaining members seemed disjointed. Replacement drummer Angie Boylan proved herself by punctuating each song with thunderous rhythms, and Corin Tucker shook the ballroom with sheer vocal authority. Carrie Brownstein brought the most energy, channeled into guitar shredding and hybrid crabwalk-moonwalk dance moves.
But like the light beams and ghostly shadows that surrounded the band, as if they were inside an offseason haunted house, their performance felt a little too strategically arranged. The airtight set list left little room for communication between members or with the audience, with the exception of a few vaguely political statements from Brownstein: "A great thing to do is dance…and vote." Brownstein apologized to anyone returning from the night before—she was repeating herself.
This built on the performance's overall sense of calculation, as if the band were going through the motions instead of delivering the zest a sold-out hometown crowd deserves. Like a city renovated to conform to middle-class tastes, Sleater-Kinney's rehearsed, refined sound and visual theatrics seemed sufficient to please a large audience—but perhaps not entirely satisfying for fans who originally fell in love with the band for their raw, unapologetically scrappy charms.