Yeah, I’m gonna call myself out on this one—I was not super stoked about Wild Flag when I first heard them. What the hell is wrong with me sometimes?
Maybe I was in a bad mood, but the self-titled 2011 album took a little while to grow on me. Well, after seeing them live, I am no longer so ignorant, and I get why they sell out shows, even Monday night shows at the 9:30 Club. I am kicking myself for not getting on board sooner, but I’m so so so on board now.
Everyone knows by now that Wild Flag is a super group composed of Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney badass, hilarious Portlandia comedian, and soon-to-be memoir author), DC’s own Mary Timony (Helium), Janet Weiss (formerly of awesome indie band Quasi, Sleater-Kinney drummer), and Rebecca Cole (The Minders). With that much industry clout, I was a bit skeptical that they were a hyped-up band that was all fluff and no fury. WRONG. There’s a kick me sign on my back right now.
Opening with “Electric Band,” the girls burst on stage without any hesitation and more swagger than many bands I’ve seen live.
I don’t know how I made my way through that crowd to my friends; it was packed tighter than Poison drummer Rikki Rocket’s tighty whiteys in there, though full of amiable people who graciously let me through. I had a really great view of Timony and Brownstein, both radiating a naturally alluring and dominant presence.
It’s fucking obvious that these ladies adore each other and have an undeniable chemistry. That positive energy infiltrated a crowd already ignited with positive energy in anticipation of the show. There were three girls in front of me that knew all the words and who were head-bobbing and dancing like crazy. My friends and I silently wondered if we were that annoying when we were younger. Probably. Then we shrugged it off because that’s what Wild Flag would want us to do, rock the fuck out without hesitation, without judgment, and with total reckless abandon.
I think we’re all hoping Brownstein will kinda go Portlandia on our asses between songs with some witty stage banter. She’s modest and thanks everyone for packing it in on a Monday but is reserved and introduces “Something Came Over Me” almost shyly. But then, Cole makes a joke from behind her keyboard about the Kentucky game and Brownstein banters, “They are completely unsympathetic to your basketball game, aren’t they?” Cole admits she’s taping the game backstage, and Brownstein quips, “We’ll be the first rock band to drop down a screen and play a soundtrack over a sports game. Total jock jams.” The crowd goes wild, satisfied that she is funny without even trying.
So, I was gushing about Wild Flag’s chemistry, and I also just have to bring attention to the range of influences and styles interwoven throughout the show: from Brownstein’s ’70s-influenced guitar licks and Patti Smith/Tom Verlaine-influenced vocals in “Boom,” to Timony’s and Cole’s indie-pop stylings. Oh, and can we just take a minute to gush over Weiss’s psych/pop keyboard parts? I mean, I wanted to rush home and emulate her keyboard parts on my roommate’s keyboard. “Glass Tambourine” turned into a total ’60s psych freak out, complete with all four ladies harmonizing prior to Brownstein’s trippy fuzzed-out guitar jamming.
So, kick me in the face for doubting the much-deserved hype of this band. They played a four-song set of nothing but new songs, so good I thought I was hearing Shocking Blue for a second. It had me scrambling to know if I’d missed the release of an EP or album, which hopefully will be out soon. Brownstein admitted, “I know it’s not comfortable listening to songs you don’t know. Deal with it.” Well, I was not bothered at all and really don’t think anyone else cared; they were that good.
Then they came out for an encore that literally blew me away. I’d been jotting down Television and Tom Verlaine left and right when trying to describe Brownstein’s guitar playing and vocal styling, and then they appeared on stage to cover “See No Evil” with Timony singing vocals, which I think totally should have been Brownstein. Hell, maybe they planned it that way, but during the next cover, Brownstein admitted to having the flu, so maybe she needed a break before the last song they played, which she introduced with “Five percent of you will know this song, but I can’t use being sick as an excuse because they would have rocked the fuck out, so I’m gonna give it my all.”
I thought to myself, here comes a Minor Threat cover. But it was “Margin Walker” by Fugazi, and those Wild Flag ladies pretty much set me on fire in white hot amazement.
Photos by Liz Gorman