When talking about Wild Flag, it’s hard to ignore the ghost of Sleater Kinney. Disregarding the fact that half of Wild Flag is comprised of two-thirds of Sleater Kinney, both bands are made up of all female members who play a unique brand of sludgy, aggressive, almost stoner punk, rock. Add to that the fact that both bands have it in them to blow just about anyone off the stage they care to, and it’s completely understandable, if not valid, that many could walk away from this show feeling a longing for the return of Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss’s previous group. But Sleater Kinney is dead, so long live Wild Flag.
I went into Thursday’s sold out show at the Black Cat blind. I hadn’t heard a note of what Wild Flag was doing. I knew they’d posted a few singles and there was a YouTube video here and there, but I wanted to have no notion of what to expect (beyond the inevitable Kinney comparison, that is.) What I got in return was a ferocious display of musical muscle, one that was not at all surprising given the band’s roots but that nonetheless proved hugely satisfying.
It took about 3 songs for the group to really catch its stride, but once they did, they practically set fire to the stage. To be sure, Brownstein is the big personality here, and whenever she was in charge the energy seemed to kick up a notch or two. But guitarist Mary Timony can more than hold her own, and I suspect that as the tour goes on you’ll see their relationship develop into a more balanced affair. As it stands now though, what the band makes perfectly clear is that most of you other bands are going to need to study up on the rock if you want to compete this year.
All the prerequisite rock posturing aside, the members of Wild Flag really sell this stuff. Timony’s staccato bursts of distorted guitar work are typical for this kind of music, but they are fleshed out and deepened by the understated keyboard work of Rebecca Cole. Barely there though hugely important to their sound, Cole lays down organ fueled power chords underneath Timony and Brownstein’s playing that keep the band from sounding too jagged even when they are at their most obtuse.
And then there’s the rhythm section.
Sure, Weiss and Brownstein have played together for years. But I never grasped just how good both of them really are, and that combination skill and relationship really pays off here. Brownstein gives the appearance that she is assaulting her bass in the same way that she assaults the microphone, but there is an accuracy here that is largely absent in this type of music. Her notes are clear, melody driving statements even when they are buried under oceans of fuzz. Similarly,Weiss’s drumming is as hard hitting as it is finessed. And when the two of them lock in on each other, it isn’t clear who is actually driving the beat of the song, just that it’s being driven. It makes for some complex, head spinning work that is deceptively simple sounding, immensely satisfying, and at all times rocking.
Further explanation isn’t really going to do Wild Flag’s work justice, so check out the video below to get a better feel.
I don’t know if it’s the collective years of experience or something that is just innate to this group of individuals, but rarely have I seen a band move an audience the way Flag did. And I have never seen a band do it with almost 100% untested material. That’s rock n’ roll, folks. That’s what music is supposed to be about. And that’s why it doesn’t really matter who you compare Wild Flag to. In the end what you’re getting is one great f@#@ing band that, rather than trying to prove anything or resurrect some past success, is just out there to rock. I can’t think of any better reason to make music than that.