Call a doctor, an old rocker just got blown away


I think I invented a new medical term last week, with the ominous-sounding acronym of CBJL.

That's short for Crystal Ballroom Jet Lag, a syndrome in which an old rocker who should know better parties like it's 1899, then spends the next day feeling as if he's flown across America and back. Was it some new disease? West Linn virus? No, it was a sound thrashing from three women known as Sleater-Kinney.

Lately, the Washington-state-to-Portland transplants have been generating a bigger buzz than Nick Nolte, so I went to see what all the praise was about. One thing was immediately clear: Sleater-Kinney rocks. They were not manufactured out of Mickey Mouse Club members. They were not choreographed bellybuttons who first appeared as kids on 'Star Search.' They rocked.

The instrumental lineup is two guitars and drums, with some occasional sonic support from offstage. It took around three seconds to realize that having no bass player is not a problem.

The key element for me was the guitar work of Carrie Brownstein. While most guitarists establish a hand position and then overplay the surrounding notes, she moves her entire hand to a new fret maybe six times in a single phrase, doing so with a lightning precision that I've seen from only one other guitar player: Prince.

It's almost instant Ñ the way a squirrel changes poses. The resulting music is automatically different. If I tried it just on air guitar, there would be a pile of stretched ligaments on the floor with some additional tendons dangling from the ceiling.

The day of the show began when I got up at 5:30 a.m. to write 48 topical jokes for a grateful nation. Even counting my standard two-hour nap in the afternoon, there was no way any band should have been able to keep me revved up way past midnight. Yet there I was after the encore, experiencing another medical condition, known as TFA Ñ Temporarily Fifteen Again.

I had met drummer Janet Weiss before the show, so I waited by the stairs to the dressing room to shake hands with the other two. Corin Tucker, the power vocalist, also is strong on the guitar, but the biggest impression of the night was made by Brownstein. I told her, 'That guitar playing was remarkable. Remarkable.' All three were very polite and gracious.

The contrast between the gigantic force I had just witnessed and the diminutive charmers I got to talk with afterward was startling. Who could have guessed the passion and fury residing in these tiny, gentle beasts?

Their music filled me with hope. It was clear that a generation of rock heroes had not died in vain. I stayed awake till 2:30 a.m. just thinking about it, and I was back up that morning at 7. Everywhere I went, I talked about the experience. For a few hours last weekend, this band duped me into thinking I was still young.

Reality returned Saturday afternoon. I began feeling woozy and realized that I no longer had the strength to work the remote. Shortly after that, I was out.

I awoke many hours later, still suffering from CBJL. I was beginning to understand why Sleater-Kinney named one of their albums 'Call the Doctor.'

Bill McDonald is a Portland writer and musician.