Something wilder

The Wild Flag show at the Biltmore on November 12 was definitely a step up from the album. The band played hard, and they played well. Unlike so many now who are too kool to kalypso, they really moved around on stage, giving off infectious energy. They were as much fun to watch as to listen to.

Having done our time years ago in mosh pits (although the pit looked pretty well behaved), my height-challenged sweetie and I found a slightly elevated perch with a side view of the stage. We didn't have a good view of Janet Weiss, but we definitely heard her. We got a good view of the rest of the band, with Rebecca Cole closest to us, Carrie Brownstein on the far side, and Mary Timony in the middle. Amazingly, the sound even from that angle was excellent! I was hoping maybe the lyrics would be buried a bit, as they so often are on stage, but no such luck. (I don't know if they are touring with their own sound person or if Swann did the sound.)

I was not taking notes. I thought about it, but the napkin got a little wet, and I figured I was not really there to write a review anyway. So I must work from memory (after two pints). Did they start with "Endless Talk"? I can't remember now, but it was a strong start. Then they went into "Short Version," and I was definitely happy. And then I totally lost track of the order of songs. I know they played "Electric Band," which did not improve on stage. Somewhere in there they played "Future Crimes" and "Black Tiles," both of which sounded good. But inevitably, we hit the first single, "Glass Tambourine." I love that Mary Timony is 41 years old (not young in rock and roll years), but that only means that she should know better than to use lyrics that she might well have written in high school (and should have left back there).

There were a few songs I didn't know. The band didn't announce them as being new, so I'm guessing they were songs from previous bands, although I did not recognize any Sleater-Kinney. They did a good hard version of "Romance," which was a high point. They also did "Something Came Over Me," which I did not realize was Timony's song. That sounded good too. They played "Boom," another song with lyrics that no amount of live energy can improve.

They ended the set with "Racehorse." It's six minutes and forty seconds of self-indulgence on the record. I'm pretty sure it ran well over 10 minutes on stage. Actually, considering the lyrics, I'd just as soon they do a long jam on the song. They're good musicians. But they seem not to realize that they are good ensemble musicians. They're not virtuosi like Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page. Only Weiss really reaches that level (and gave us some great Ginger Baker at one point). So the long jam isn't really what it ought to be, or what they seem to think it is.

They left the stage briefly while Manservant Hecubus retuned the guitars. Then they came back and did a short, fast song that I didn't recognize. And then they gave us their one cover for the night.* Were we going to have to suffer through "Beast of Burden"? No! It was Television's "See No Evil"! Squeeeee! They did a very good job of it, with Timony singing lead. Here's the problem though. Hearing them play "See No Evil" just makes it obvious that they aren't writing songs of that calibre.

It's interesting what you can learn from watching a band on stage that you can't perceive from the album. For instance, not only does Timony stand in the middle. She also seems to be the anchor of the band in a lot of ways, between her singing and her playing. I already knew that Weiss provided a really solid backbone and Cole's keyboard riffs were a huge part of the sound. But I guess I expected Brownstein to be more of a presence than Timony, and that wasn't true. Brownstein, in fact, while clearly having fun, gave us no rock star moves. Not even one kick, unless I missed it. Maybe the Biltmore stage is too confining.

Overall, I enjoyed the show. It's great to see such a good ensemble with members who have such fun playing together. There are no posers here! Now if they can only write material that lives up to the great sound they have together.

By the way, if I read another article that talks about Wild Flag being an "all-female band," I'm going to unleash a very poisonous pen in comments. They're a band! Seriously, that's all I saw on stage. They just happen to be women. I mean, really, when's the last time you saw a band referred to as an "all-male band"? And that's because by default, "band" = "male band." That is what male privilege means.

* OK, with the much more knowledgeable Caitlin's help, I now know there was at least one other cover.


Caitlin said...

My friend Alex drove all the way from Seattle to attend the Vancouver show. She thought it was amazing because they played a Misfits song.

Véronique said...

That must have been one of the songs that I didn't recognize. :)

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