April 1, 2012 (9:45pm)
There is something inherently badass about four women rocking out on stage, with a light show, a huge screaming crowd, and raw, punk-driven rock beats. If there was ever a doubt, WILD FLAG has proved it. Sunday night is usually a night to get all the work done you were going to do during the weekend (or is that just me?), but that didn’t stop their fans from packing into Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom on April 1st for their show with opening band Hospitality.
WILD FLAG emerged from the remains of Sleater-Kinney, keeping the core of guitarist/singer Carrie Brownstein (who also stars in the sketch comedy show Portlandia) and drummer Janet Weiss (who has also played with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Bright Eyes, Elliot Smith, Quasi, The Go Betweens, and more), and adding guitarist/singer Mary Timony (Helium) and keyboardist Rebecca Cole (The Minders). The four all played music in the same Pacific Northwest indie music scene, so their eventual collaboration was not unexpected. But what came out of it is an album full of post punk-infused indie rock.
There were all kinds of people crowded around me: young, old, male, female, friendly, rude, couples, stags, even Fred Armisen (presumably to watch his Portlandia co-star). The spirit of the crowd was exemplified by the jacket of the woman standing directly in front of me, which explained, “Not gay as in happy, but queer as in fuck you.” WILD FLAG’s music and image represented more than just a good band to most of the crowd. This was a homecoming.
A mellow buzz instantly erupted into cheers as the foursome made their way to their respective instruments. Most of the people crowded into Webster Hall seemed to know what they were in for. The same way that you buy tickets to see your favorite band when you hear they’re coming to town because you know that seeing them live will be as good, if not better, than their new album. The one you’ve been listening to over and over, because it’s just that good. They had that same feeling, that same anticipation.
Each member of WILD FLAG had her own, distinct stage personality. The keys player (Cole) jumped up and down, bobbing her head for most of the set, playing tambourine for one song and singing back up. Timony was at some times sweet and at other times brash, singing intensely into the microphone, strutting around the stage, or holding her guitar up to the amp to make it feedback (and even once slamming its neck against the ground). Brownstein was the bad girl; dressed all in black, playing mean guitar, and singing into the microphone with a vengeance. One of the highlights of the night was near the end of the set when she got up on Weiss’ kick drum in her high heals and just stood with her back to the audience, slowly plucking away. She stayed there for a good couple of minutes before nonchalantly hopping back down. Brownstein and Timony had enough showmanship for the whole group, but that didn’t stop Cole from having her own fun too.
Weiss was, honestly, the least interesting of the four musicians. Don’t get me wrong, her drumming was seriously rocking. But, there was still something lacking. Maybe it was the fact that she smiled maybe a total of five times during the whole set. To me, it was a phenomenon similar to someone’s actions not matching their words (something akin to what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance”): her audio wasn’t matching her visual. She was totally rocking out, driving the band, giving exactly the beats that the band needed, playing out each fill with intensity. But at the same time she was serious, focused, concentrating on keeping the band in time and in order. The fun emanating from her drumming wasn’t apparent in her body language, and it was hard for me to overcome. Everyone around me, however, loved her. Every time she had a solo, or came through with a killer fill, there would be a roar of approval. And there were several times throughout the set that that were just freaking awesome. At one point during the song “Glass Tambourine” the guitars dropped and only Weiss and Cole continued to sing their harmonic back up melody. Weiss raised her arm straight up to the ceiling, singing into her mic, wind blowing her hair (she had a fan on her the whole night), and the crowd went nuts as they all burst back into the chorus.
All four women worked effortlessly well together, using the whole stage and playing off each other’s performances and emotions. And the crowd had as much fun as they did. It was a call and response: the band would blast into a climax of guitars, vocal harmonies, and driving drumbeats, and the audience would cheer and dance along. I couldn’t help but feel myself being pulled into the sonic groove. Between songs there would be dramatic silences that Timony and Brownstein even acknowledged. “You’re all so quiet,” they laughed. Awestruck is a pretty strong word, but most of the people around me clearly just wanted the show to go on, and anything but silence would cause a delay.
Possibly the best song of the night was one of two unrecorded songs they played. It started slow and had a really solid groove, but stopped part-way through as Weiss counted off a new, faster tempo. She was clearly having a lot of fun with this one too, smiling and laughing as the song progressed and the crowd got into it. Weiss also had a killer drum solo at the beginning of “Racehorse” that got everyone really going. They closed their set with their single “Romance,” which was easily the crowd’s favorite song, and played three covers for their encore. To me, their light-hearted cover of “Do You Wanna Dance” encapsulated the core of what WILD FLAG brings to us: beneath the bad girl image, and heavy rock and roll riffs, girls just really want to have fun.
“Something Came Over Me”
“Beast of Burden” (The Rolling Stones cover)
“Do You Wanna Dance” (Bobby Freeman cover)
“Margin Walker” (Fugazi cover)
Review by Sofia Pasternack