Despite the awesome spectacle (high kicks, guitar humping) and the resumes (Sleater-Kinney, Helium, the Minders) Wild Flag’s music stands on its own. The indie rock foursome (don’t call it a supergroup) from Portland, Oreg. and Washington D.C. ripped the Great American Music Hall to shreds on Saturday night, likely Friday night too, but I wasn’t there.
Jumping on stage without a word and whipping through the first three songs of the set (all off the self-titled debut), the band set the bar high early; the energy between vocalist-guitarist Mary Timony and vocalist-guitarist Carrie Brownstein was instantly electric. The two snaked around one another, in classic sex-soaked rock god movements. Janet Weiss’ complex drumming remained a blissful flurry of pummeling hits. Organist Rebecca Cole added cool retro garage charm. This is a pack of insanely talented musicians, and the crowd fed off their every lick. It was a packed, attentive, ecstatic house.
Ever the dry wit, Brownstein occasionally piped up with observations — “last night they said we brought the weather from Portland” and “I watched two depressing movies before the show — Girl, Interrupted and How To Die In Oregon.” A pre-game decision that she identified as a bad idea. Playing nearly every track off the album, including standout “Racehorse” and singles “Future Crimes” and “Romance” – plus two promising new songs – the band retreated off stage after a tight hour.
When they returned for the first and only encore, Brownstein said she’d read a story online about Danzig being too cold at Fun Fun Fun Fest, which delayed his stage time, then she remarked about his need for shawl, buttering us up for a Misfits cover. “I don’t need a fucking shawl to sing a Misfits song,” she explained. Brownstein tricked us by asking if we liked the Misfits song “’Bullet” – cheers – “Yeah, I’m not going to play that, it’s fucking offensive.” Wild Flag launched into a garage version of “She.” Someone threw a shawl on stage. This was followed by a Television cover. The band closed out the impeccable set with a tingling cover of Patti Smith’s “Ask the Angels.”
While Wild Flag is essentially brand new (late 2010), the show felt nostalgic. It was the night of my 10-year high school reunion (which I chose not to attend for obvious reasons), and there were wistful pangs of youthful abandon. Having been just a tiny bit too young for the heart of riot grrrl, on the very teetering tip of the movement, I always felt like I was on the outside wishing to break in. But when the merch woman for Wild Flag at Great American Music Hall complimented my Bikini Kill tattoo, I was filled with pride. Listening to bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Sleater-Kinney changed my young life for the better; no matter my non-traditional place in its legacy, riot grrrl brought me to feminism, to music as art, to journalism.
Yes, Wild Flag is a new – and might I add, yet again, brilliant – project and should be judged as such, that demands a clean slate, but the members have been a part of the cultural female underground, the ongoing, endless discussion of riot grrrl, post-riot-grrrl, women in rock, and genderless musicianship for decades. It’s unavoidable and I think, a disservice to simply ignore. When do we stop talking about musicians based on sex? It’s a question I alone cannot answer but I think it starts with bands like these. I wasn’t the only one claiming it album of the year/best show of the year – female or not – I’ve heard that high praise elsewhere, everywhere.