October 3, 2011
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
"There's really no better place to start a tour than Minneapolis," Carrie Brownstein gushed near the end of Wild Flag's set, one of the only times they really stopped to address the audience at length. "There's really nothing between here and Portland if you head west, right?"
Take that, everything between here and Portland.
Though it was the the band's first time in Minnesota and the first date of their tour in support of the new Wild Flag, they had a reputation that proceded them; most of that reputation was based on their previous bands and influence, as well as the Gatorade coolers of critical praise that have been showered on them since the release of the new record. So my expectations were running high, and I was half expecting them to sound so brilliant by the time they got to Minnesota that they would be levitating or glowing or something. I was happily surprised to hear that they sounded just as loose, down-to-earth, and fun as I remembered from their performance at this year's SXSW festival in Texas.
With only 10 tracks to their name so far, Wild Flag had little choice but to play every song off Wild Flag, and the audience seemed just fine with that. A highlight of the first half of their set was "Glass Tambourine," one of the first times the band seemed to let go a little. Though they are clearly used to playing with one another by now, the four musicians seemed uptight and downright stoic at the beginning of their set; "Tambourine" unraveled into a righteous guitar face-off between Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney) and Mary Timony (Helium), and I think I even saw Brownstein throw in a leg kick or two.
Of course the real highlight was hearing Brownstein scream. It was a hoarse, unnerving caterwaul that she unleashed only once, on the very last song before the encore, and the fact that she teased the audience for an entire set with mostly smooth, glassy vocal melodies made that moment even more exhilarating.
Another favorite part was watching Janet Weiss (also of Sleater-Kinney fame) hold down the beat on the drums -- she has a very raw, emotional style, and at times she would speed up and slow down the tempo like a lung shrinking and expanding as it takes in more air. It pushed the music along at a very organic pace, and though isn't really necessary to dwell on the fact that Wild Flag is an all-female group it did make me think about the different energies that female rock musicians project; there's something really fantastic about rock 'n' roll that's been stripped of its machismo but still, well, rocks, and it's a balance Wild Flag pull off really well. They aren't trying to be pretty, but they aren't trying to cop a fake testosterone-driven aggression, either.
Since they'd played all their songs by the end of the main set, Wild Flag came back for an encore with two expertly chosen covers: A jangly, feel-good cover of the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden" followed by Patti Smith's "Ask the Angels."
Personal bias: Honestly? I missed the boat on the whole riot grrl movement because I was living in small town U.S.A., so I don't have any real nostalgia for their previous bands. But I do wish Carrie Brownstein had been my big sister growing up.
The crowd: More women than men, many of whom resembled the women on stage.
Overheard in the crowd: "OMG, she's doing leg kicks!"
Random notebook dump: The lyric "I like the way you make me stay up late" on "Boom" seemed pretty appropriate for being out at a show on a Monday night.