Please god let there be a follow up to 2011’s self-titled record by indie super group titans Wild Flag. For nearly 90 minutes on Thursday night, Carrie Brownstein and company slayed the sold-out crowd at Chicago’s Metro with a thundering aural assault, performing with a showmanship swagger only capable of such talented veterans of the stage. Attention to any young talents out there, this is your ear-ringing bible.
Brooklyn upstarts, Hospitality, opened the evening to an already packed house. Their blend of surf rock via Real Estate, shoegaze guitar fuzz, and early 90’s female vocals a la Liz Phair and Juliana Hatfield went over well enough to hold the audience’s attention, but they are put in the unfortunate position of opening up for Wild Flag. After the show you honestly had to feel bad for them, to no fault of their own, but due to what followed in Wild Flag’s performance. It draws to mind the image of the football being pulled out from under Charlie Brown’s foot. They’re not without fans, though. Mary Timony, of Flag, enjoyed the set from the side of the stage, while sipping out of styophone cup, looking like a high fashion character out of Ghost World.
Shortly after, around a half past ten, the ladies of Wild Flag hit the stage and tore into sprawling versions off their self-titled debut. Now, as excellent of an album it may be, the live renditions exuded an extravagant intensity absent from their studio counterparts, which resulted in one vicious, head-rattling performance. On an extended cut of “Boom”, Brownstein delivered the lyrics with fire-breathing intensity, as she intoned, “It’s getting so pathetic/I’m so restrained/I need it to be hectic/and rearranged, rearranged.” Her eyes did most of the talking.
One pleasant surprise of the night was Mary Timony’s guitar work – she’s highly underrated. To play opposite Brownstein is no easy feat, and on the guitar-heavy “Racehorses”, Brownstein and Timony, as they did several times throughout the night, met at center stage playing inches apart and danced in a serpentine fashion, almost morphing into a unified force. Behind them, drummer Janet Weiss supplied an avalanche of heavy percussion, not to mention ceiling shifting harmonies alongside keyboardist Rebecca Cole.
This uncompromising unity captures a band that’s enthralled to be with one another. Throughout the night, Brownstein, Cole, Timony, and Weiss exchanged endless smiles and spit out playful stage banter, all while tearing down the house. Brownstein even made reference to the Chicago Cubs’ home opener, when asking if the crowd overflowed from the game. This was met with a tepid respond leading to further inquiry by Brownstein resulting in the conclusion that Wild Flag fans have a firm allegiance to Cubs’ cross-town rivals the White Sox. She even subtly referenced her TV show Portlandia when she reiterated her wish for Portland to have a team (Brownstein put one together in a skit from the show), and made clear her opinion that people from Chicago are “cute.” That didn’t go over well, either.
Oddly enough, not once did the crowd request any songs from the respective members’ classic previous bands (e.g. Sleater Kinney, Helium ,and The Minders). That’s pretty unheard of; in fact, check out past clips of solo Stephen Malkmus gigs, especially before Pavement’s reunion to see how that typically goes. This fact, however, is just a testament to the strength of Wild Flag’s brief catalogue.
Following a crowd-surging cut of scorching single “Romance”, Wild Flag returned for an encore chock full of spontaneous covers, which included Television’s “See No Evil”, Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Wanna Dance?”, and Fugazi’s “Margin Walker”. The latter found Brownstein nearly crumpling her mic in hand, as she bled into each and every word. Somewhere in there, she also held up her guitar high above her head for close to a minute. It was a moment of reverence to the power of rock and the religious transcendence that can be found in a live performance. In Chicago, on April 5th, the lucky fans in attendance worshipped at the feet of the almighty Wild Flag.
Photography by Michael Roffman.