By Daniel Kohn
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You see him at every show, from Modest Mouse to Blonde Redhead, even the recent secret Pixies gig—the tall, rail-thin hipster in size-eight women's jeans, a tattered grey Members Only jacket over a T-shirt he once spent three hours silk screening. His eyes, if not obscured by perfectly razored and straightened bangs, are hidden behind large white sunglasses, the kind Huey Lewis wore during his Sports days. And despite the fact that you see through this boy's could-care-less demeanor, you—and the rest of the crowd—can't help but notice something: he's motionless. Unmoved. When the band launches into its opening number, you glance over: he's not dancing. Why should you? And so, despite not having a single sufficient reason—fatigue, injury, apathy—you stand still, occasionally nodding your head while the band thrashes, wails and jumps around onstage.
It used to be just the wallflowers who wouldn't dance. But now, even the most excited fans don't budge. And who can blame them? No one likes dancing alone.
Bands have noticed. Recently posting on their website after a particularly frustrating show in Philadelphia, Sleater-Kinney wrote, "It's always amazing, the disparity that sometimes exists between how much energy we put out and how much we receive in return. Tonight we were thinking, 'Why are you staring at us but not moving?' Sometimes it feels like we're a TV show."
For a band widely regarded as the ultimate live performers—they routinely rock fans senseless during their two-hour sets, inducing uncontrollable shouting and arms-akimbo pogoing with their rough-and-tumble mix of loud, clangy guitars (courtesy of dueling guitar goddesses Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein) and drummer Janet Weiss' unparalleled tight, step-in-time beats—the fans' reluctance to dance must be unnerving.
"It's a specific thing for us because we're such a force of nature in terms of what we are as a band and our interaction with our fans at our live shows," Tucker says during a phone call. "We noticed on this last trip that it definitely felt like things had cooled off as to what fans were willing to give in reaction to the band. People are intimidated to speak out and dance and interact at a public place, and it's hard when you're playing as hard as you can and people are just standing there."
Tucker figures it's possible the uncaused cause of this motion sickness is the digital age—downloading and, with it, ready access to songs and the subsequent elimination of the need for fans to engage other people at record stores and live shows. "I do think it's a more removed experience," she says. "By sitting at home and downloading music on their computer and listening to it on their iPod, they're not really connecting with live music or musicians. But that [connection] is really important to us. They should go for it."
However, as Tucker quickly points out, not all blame rests with the audience. "I think people do want to connect. It's just a matter of figuring out how to facilitate that."
That problem has become increasingly difficult to solve due to venue regulations. "Nowadays, there's generally a huge barricade between us and the audience, which is ridiculous because our crowds never stage dive—it's not their thing to be violent—and that distance is difficult to negotiate."
So what would the ideal stage include?
"I think having lights would be a great thing. We're so bare-bones. For us, it would just be having a really good punk rock stage. A little bit of lights and good access for people to see us."
Fortunately, that's a spot-on description of the Glass House, where Sleater-Kinney plays Tuesday night. With any luck, the kids will leave their iPods at home, arrive with their dancing shoes on—sans sunglasses—and let loose, giving Tucker and her band mates something a little better to write home about.Sleater-Kinney plays the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 629-0377. Tues., 7 p.m. $13.50. All ages.