Ok, I’ll admit it – I was completely oblivious to the massive hype surrounding Wild Flag. As much as I respect Carrie Brownstein’s and Mary Timony’s talents and musical contributions, I can’t say that I actually listen to them all that much. I also missed the bootleg of their first show, which, along with the big names, helped garner so much attention. My reason for going was simple; a friend with trustworthy taste was, and I wanted to hang out. I listened to their self-titled debut a few times and enjoyed it, but didn’t really have any expectations for what I was going to see. That apparently worked to their and my advantage, as I was treated to one of the most thoroughly satisfying shows I’ve seen all year.
We escaped the rain to find The Paradise as packed as I’ve ever seen. So packed, in fact, that we were forced to retreat to the balcony. While we waited for some spots along the railing to open up, Eleanor Friedberger entertained the crowd with songs from her solo debut, “Last Summer.” She explored a variety of musical styles, with some slight funk, disco, and 70s era rock, bass drum shaking the room for every song. At times she even sounded vaguely like Ted Leo. Her more mellow songs seemed to drag, but they fit much better on her album.
Wild Flag took the stage around 10:45, clearly ready to rock. They opened with “Black Tiles,” Timony handled lead vocals while Brownstein played the Egyptian-sounding lead line and kicked around the stage. Throughout the night they’d trade singing and lead duties, each sounding fantastic. Meanwhile, Rebecca Cole would occasionally play some lead lines on her keyboard, but she mostly handled the low end, making the lack of bass player completely unnoticeable, and Janet Weiss kept the energy up with her forceful drumming. Their entire performance was raw, loud, and, most important: incredibly fun. Even more impressive was that they were all of those things without sacrificing their impeccable musicianship.
There were numerous highlights throughout their set. Album opener “Romance” sounded especially catchy with all four members singing the chorus. “Glass Tambourine” slowed things down with a driving beat and classic rock riffs, climaxing with an ominous bridge. My favorite of the night was “Future Crimes,” their most urgent song, and one of the best examples of their effective simplicity. In general, their instrumentation isn’t overly complex (unless they decide to shred), but every part complements the other other perfectly to create something deep and interesting.
Considering that they only have about 40 minutes of recorded material, I wasn’t sure how long their headlining set would be. I was expecting to get out around 11:30, but they managed to stretch their set all the way to midnight. In addition to their album material, their setlist was littered with new songs, and some classic rock covers. Instrumental sections were extended into jam sessions, giving Brownstein and Timony a chance to show their guitar prowess. They managed to impress while still serving the song, and without becoming too tedious – although a ten minute version of “Race Horse” may have been pushing it. Still, I, along with the rest of the crowd, loved every minute. Even after their encore, when they’d surely exhausted all of their material, we still stood hoping to hear another song, right up until the house lights came back on.
There’s nothing quite as refreshing as a well-executed rock show, and Wild Flag have more than enough talent, experience, and stage presence to hold their own. After seeing them, I wasn’t remotely surprised to find that tickets are selling out for the majority of their stops on this tour. Next time they come around, make sure to buy your tickets early.