Wild Flag and Royal Baths at the High Dive, Seattle | 12 November 2010
You’ve likely already heard about how Wild Flag are two parts Sleater-Kinney (Carrie Brownstein & Janet Weiss), one part Helium (Mary Timony) and one part Minders (Rebecca Cole); how they’ve signed with Merge to put out their record and how up until this weekend no one knew what they sounded like. Much ado has been made about this indie rock supergroup and the band has contributed to the mystery with references to dolphins, avalanches and hot dogs in lieu of providing any sonic evidence. The veteran women know how to create anticipation in today’s connected world by not putting any of their songs up on the internet. Sure they’ve got a Myspace, Facebook and Twitter, but not a song to be heard on any of them. I think we all had a pretty good guess about what they would sound like, and if you’d ever heard Brownstein and Timony’s collaboration project the Spells from ten years ago you probably had a better guess.
First and foremost Wild Flag are a guitar band. They have two great guitarists in Brownstein and Timony and even though the songs were new and they were still kind of feeling their way around (Timony had chords written on pieces of paper on the stage) they both were comfortable enough with the songs by this their third show for Brownstein to be doing high kicks and Timony handling her axe by the neck as if she were wringing its final notes. Brownstein even joked a few times how they had only heard these new songs a couple more times than we had. Timony’s and Brownstein’s styles are different, but they compliment each other. Brownstein is more flamboyant in her style and Timony a little more understated, sashaying to Bronwstein’s high kicks. They split the vocal duties about evenly and shared them on a few songs. Drummer Janet Weiss and keyboardist Rebecca Cole provided the backing vocals and Weiss even took the lead on a cover of the Velvet Underground’s She’s My Best Friend reminding me a little of Yo La Tengo.
As for the Wild Flag songs? They were all quality, and many were immediately catchy making it easy for the crowd to get into it. I read reviews from their Olympia show that the band sounded garage, but I heard lots of mod, post punk and psychedelia in the songs, but first and foremost pop. Playing to type, Brownstien’s songs tended to be more muscular and Timony’s were more subtle. Most of the songs were the three minute kind, but the band rocked out on the Brownstein sung Race Horse which turned into both guitarist riffing off of one another while Wiess and Cole controlled the pace for a good six minutes.
They played four covers to fill out the set including Dirty Water and Beast of Burden but the best of the night was saved for the last. Their version of Patty Smith’s Ask the Angels was inspired and full of punky raw energy Smith would have been proud of . Brownstein set her guitar aside and grabbed the mic and channeled her inner Smith, which I’m guessing isn’t too much of a reach, while Timony unleashed white hot riffs while bouncing around the stage. It was an appropriate raw wild ending to the show. The next time Wild Flag come through town, they’ll likely have a record, be much more polished, and be playing a much larger venue but it was pretty cool to see them at this nascent stage as the songs have just been formed and they’re emerging from their chrysalis.
The Royal Baths opened and if I had not already known they were from San Francisco, I would have guessed they were the house band for an opium den down the street. Their songs were dark, psychedelic odes to the Velvet Underground except there was no Lou Reed, it was all John Cale. It was good stuff, but I don’t know how many people there were paying much attention. Their album Litanies came out on Woodsist last month is worth a look.