As the calendar turned, many artists found themselves looking back upon those we lost in 2016 — a particularly cruel year that robbed us of heroes across the musical spectrum. December alone brought the passings of George Michael, Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Greg Lake and Debbie Reynolds, an icon of stage and screen whose concurrent career as a recording artist included a handful of albums, soundtrack appearances and a Billboard No. 1, “Tammy.”
At their New Year’s Eve gig at The Masonic in San Francisco, Olympia, Wash., rockers Sleater-Kinney broke from their 23-song set of original compositions to pay tribute to two recently departed singers, Michael and David Bowie. Michael, who passed away on Christmas Day, was honored with a performance of his solo single “Faith,” a song that went on to become the best-selling single of 1988. Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss were joined by Kathy Foster from opening act The Thermals on the worldwide No. 1. Bowie, who died in January, just days after the release of his final studio album Blackstar, was remembered with the show-closing “Rebel, Rebel,” for which the band traded verses with Hutch Harris of The Thermals and Spoon frontman Britt Daniel, who spun a DJ set earlier in the night. Released in 1974, the song was only a modest hit stateside but was a top-10 hit throughout Europe and eventually earned its rightful place among Bowie’s most popular tracks.
Both Michael and Bowie were influential for Sleater-Kinney, even if their hard-edge musical attack didn’t always recall the more pop-oriented work of either artist. In January, Brownstein tweeted, “It feels like we lost something elemental, as if an entire color is gone,” upon the loss of Bowie. In her memoir “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl,” she describes the effect of seeing Michael perform live in junior high: “From my seat on the center of the stadium floor, Michael was reduced in size, an action figure. But the experience itself was immense; the grandiosity was ungraspable, it was the Olympics, it was a mountain, it was outer space.”
The Masonic concert marked the end of a quiet year for the trio. Following the completion of an Australian tour in support of their most recent album, 2015’s No Cities to Love, the band performed only two shows together, a pair of September dates at Riot Fest Denver, prior to New Year’s Eve. So far, Sleater-Kinney has not announced any future tour dates, although fans can still catch Brownstein when the seventh season of IFC’s “Portlandia” premieres on Jan. 5.