"Evolution": Wild Flag @ The Black Cat 10/20/11

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Words: Paul    Photos: Kevin

I know it seems odd to use the term “evolution” in reference to a band that only came into existence at the end of last year but I could think of no better term what I saw from Wild Flag this year.  Within eight short months, Wild Flag gave an inspired (if raw) debut performance at the Black Cat, released a fantastic album, and finally returned this past Thursday as fully formed rock stars flexing their muscles at the same venue.  It is a rare thing indeed to be able to witness this type of change from a national act in such a tight window of time.

When Wild Flag first played the Black Cat in February, I had no idea what to expect.  All I knew was that two members of Sleater Kinney, the lead singer of Helium, and the drummer from the Minders had formed a band that had been getting rave reviews on its first tour.  There was no album, no video, nothing to indicate what their live show would be like.  But reputation and curiosity were enough to get me, the rest of the CG staff, and a sold out crowd through the door – a door which they proceeded to blow off its hinges.

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Carrie Brownstein...here to rockHowever, while Carrie, Mary, Janet, and Rebecca played with all of the energy and skill that one would expect of such accomplished musicians, it was clear that they were not entirely comfortable as a band.  Their stage banter was a bit forced, the transitions occasionally awkward, and, above all, it was sometimes hard to tell who was supposed to take the lead on each track.  But they had some great original songs, killer chops, and an obvious enthusiasm that more than made up for these minor missteps.  Still, the performance was something of a tease, hinting as it did at the potential for even better shows in the future.

By the time Wild Flag dropped in September, the band had played a full tour and had had plenty of time to work through some of its early growing pains.  But rather than taking the opportunity to endlessly tinker with their sound in the studio (and cover up any remaining issues with production), the ladies made the ballsy decision to lay down the instrumental portion of every track on the album live.  It proved to be an inspired choice and, as a result, Wild Flag manages to capture the raw urgency and emotion of the band’s live show while also showcasing the improved chemistry between the members.  

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Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein...both READY.TO.ROCKThis brings us, finally, to last Thursday’s return engagement at the Black Cat.  The ladies ripped through most of the tracks from Wild Flag along with a few new tracks and a couple of inspired covers (“Judy is a Punk” and “See No Evil”) that paid frank homage to some of the band’s most obvious influences to round out the set.  They also stretched out a bit by turning “Racehorse” into a blistering space rock jam to close their (pre-encore) set.  All in all, the material they played was mostly unchanged since February but the band playing it had clearly undergone a metamorphosis from a collection of talented individual players to a fully formed collective.  Moreover, the band carries itself with a collective swagger that was missing from the earlier show.  In short, in the space of only eight months, Wild Flag has evolved and I for one can’t wait to see what they do next.

Wild Flag performing at the Black Cat. Photos by Kevin Hill