Ok, so I went on vacation during one of the worst two week periods possible in Chicago. I managed to miss St. Vincent, Zola Jesus, and Wild Flag while I was gone. But sometimes you just have to leave, you know? Luckily for me, they are still all on tour in North America. All three have released new albums. And all three are doing interviews. I haven’t been lucky enough to snag any of those interviews (yet!), but they are being published all the same. There was an excellent one this week in the Vancouver Sun with St. Vincent. Check it out.
NPR is streaming Wild Flag’s first album, which is due out next week. And the women of Wild Flag have released a video for Romance. I don’t want to be too much of a spoiler, but the video includes skipping out of work, puppies, and a giant bucket of coffee. What could be better, really? Check it out.
The temperature’s been in the high 90s all week in Chicago, with heat indexes in the triple digits. So it was hard to be enthusiastic about anything this week. But I couldn’t wait to see Wild Flag.
The Subterranean was cool when we arrived. The ac was cranked. But it didn’t take long for the small venue to fill up. The show was sold out, despite the fact that Wild Flag would be playing the next day at Wicker Park fest. Both openers were local bands, Radar Eyes and Mickey. Radar Eyes are earnest and charming garage rockers. The four piece put on an impressive performance. They had all the right elements: three part harmonies, a manic bass player, and a lead guitarist with some nice chops.
They were followed by the five piece Mickey — all decked out in glitter, paint, and leather jackets. The lead guitarist played a red Epiphone Casino, and wore a lame cape and scroungy dreaded grey fright wig. The front man jumped into the crowd several times, bopping around and sweating on people. The overall impression? It felt like a group of homeless guys grabbed some instruments out of a dumpster and decided to cover Kiss. They played a tight, fun set, and it will be interesting to see how this band develops over time.
A spiral staircase leads from the Subterranean’s green room to the stages. Fans started cheering and snapping photos as soon as they saw Janet Weiss, decked out in a sparkly black top and cut off jeans shorts, descend those stairs. Wild Flag is a strange commodity in this way. They still haven’t released a full studio album. But with two former members of Sleater-Kinney (drummer Janet Weiss and guitarist Carrie Brownstein), guitarist Mary Timony of Helium, and keyboard player Rebecca Cole of The Minders, Wild Flag had fans almost immediately after announcing they had formed. They were a buzz band at SXSW, and fans (me included) have been bothering them (via Facebook and Twitter) to tour more, play more shows, and record more music.
Expectations were high, and they didn’t disappoint. They began with the anthemic “Electric Band”; Weiss pounded out the opening beats, Timony singing and playing rhythm guitar while Brownstein and Cole traded melodies on guitar and keyboard. From the very beginning of the concert, Wild Flag gave a fun and energetic performance. Janet Weiss put her whole self into her drum-playing, leading the diverse group and keeping them together. Rebecca Cole provided backing harmonies while playing complicated keyboard parts, reminiscent of the great psychedelic bands of the 60s and 70s. Timony and Brownstein are both talented guitarists. Timony tapped away on her Jazzmaster, bouncing around the stage and singing her tunes with that distinctive, husky voice. Brownstein was as if the universe had taken the DNA of both Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry and fused them into female form; her singing was sometimes guttural, sometimes ethereal, and her guitar playing was infectious. She fingered away at her Gibson SG, playing three and four note melodies up and down the neck. She pinwheeled her arms. She dropped to the ground, writhing and kicking her legs, somehow still playing those distinctive melodies.
Because Wild Flag hasn’t released that much music, it’s difficult to write out a setlist. I know that they started with “Electric Band.” They followed that with what has become my favorite tune of theirs, although I do not know what it is called. I have seen it called “Short Version,” so let’s go with that for now. They played “Racehorse” and “Romance.” Before “Glass Tambourine,” Weiss asked that the crowd raise their arms at the appropriate time. “You’ll just know when,” she said. I’m pretty sure we would have figured it out, but Timony helped everyone out by giving a wink and raising her own arms. (If you see them soon, I’ll give you the heads up. Raise your arms during the a cappella section.) The thing that the struck me the most about them, more than their excellent playing — the entwining melodies, and multi-part vocals — is how often they smile at each other. They just look like they’re having so much fun.
It was hot at the Subterranean. The air-conditioning couldn’t keep up with all that body heat, all those sweaty, bouncing fans. For the most part, the band shrugged off the heat and played through the haze. But Brownstein did stop at one point. She thanked the fans, said she appreciated that there was a crowd. She said she was happy to be in “hot” Chicago, and that it was 63 degrees in Portland. She was wearing a salmon-colored blazer over her tank top, and she quipped (I’m paraphrasing a bit), “I’m not talking to you just to give us a break because of the heat.” A few seconds of silence, leaning into the mic and wiping her forehead. “I refuse to take off the blazer. Poor choice.” After standing there for several more seconds in front of the mic — “We don’t need a fucking break.” She spun toward her bandmates and started the next song.
After finishing their set, Wild Flag reascended those spiral steps. The fans responded with raucous cheering and floor-pounding. The band returned after several minutes. Brownstein’s blazer was gone. Timony approached the mic and asked the crowd, “Are you guys hot?” We answered with a resounding cheer of “YES!” She responded before starting the next song, “I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot in all my life.” They played the Stones’ “Beast of Burden” with Timony on vocals, followed by Brownstein’s rendition of a Distillers tune.
And this is where Brownstein’s stage theatrics literally smacked me in the face. At the very end of the set, during the final chord, Brownstein kicked a can of PBR that was sitting on the stage. Still full, it rocketed into the crowd, smacking the
girl in front of me in the chin and me in the mouth. At the time, I didn’t fully realize what happened. I saw the kick, and then felt a tap as the can hit me, exploding cold beer all over my face and torso. There I was fulfilled by the concert, but now drenched, stinking of beer, with a throbbing lip. If the band had stunk, I might have been mad. But as it was, it felt like I had been touched by the spirit of rock n’ roll itself. A skunky, red-white-and-blue, painful spirit made of sharp metal and weighing about 12 oz. But the spirit of rock no-less.
I saw Wild Flag last night. It must have been 100 degrees inside the Subterranean, despite the air conditioning. But the women of Wild Flag didn’t let that stop them from performing a “blistering” set. (Ok, sorry. I had to go for the pun.) There’s a lot to talk about, including the fact that I have a busted lip from a flying PBR can. Yep, one of Carrie Brownstein’s signature kicks sent a projectile hurtling toward my face!
I’ll write up a short review of the concert a little later, but I wanted to get a few of the photos up. To check out the full set, you can visit the new brand-spanking new Guitareste Flickr stream.
Here you are — enjoy!
Opening Band Radar Eyes
Mary Timony’s Pedal Board
Carrie Tunes Her Guitar
Mary Timony, with Janet Weiss in the background
Janet Gets Things Started
Wild Flag, with Mary Timony Singing Electric Band
Rebecca, Mary, and Carrie (and Janet’s drums!)
Mary and Carrie
photo via flickr by napkinshoe
Wild Flag have announced their first studio album will come out on September 13th! Pitchfork had a little write up about it including their summer tour dates.
Ok, I just heard about this, so maybe it is also news to you. A Runaways Tribute album is being released on Main Man Records featuring the likes of The Donnas, Wild Flag, Shonen Knife, David Johansen, Kathleen Hanna and Peaches, and Care Bears on Fire, among many others. It’s two discs, and the scheduled release date is June 28th. I’m not usually one for tribute albums, but this one seems like it’s gonna be pretty cool.