Concert review: Wild Flag appears at DC's 9:30 Club

VIENNA, Va., April, 10, 2012 — Wild Flag is a super group that appeals to a unique demographic. Each member of the band has previously enjoyed enough success in other bands to understand what success is and how to achieve it. But here’s what’s interesting: While these previous bands were well regarded, they never attained significant national popularity. Given their past encounters with at least limited success, the musicians of Wild Flag, collectively, have finally cracked that elusive popularity code.

In the process, guitarist Carrie Brownstein has turned into something of a cultural touchstone.  The 9:30 Club was sold out for Wild Flag’s show in no small part due to Brownstein’s appearance on the relatively popular and distinctively cool sketch comedy show Portlandia.  For better or worse, she has garnered more attention for Wild Flag with her TV appearance than the band would have generated on its own, despite featuring former members of highly respected bands like Sleater-Kinney, Quasi, and Helium.

In fact, it seems that Brownstein goes out of her way to avoid being identified like this. She stood left of center throughout the entire set, giving guitarist Mary Timony center stage, despite the duo’s interchanging lead vocals throughout. It’s likely this wasn’t intentional, as the band comes off avoiding any sort of pretentions. That said, though, it’s hard to imagine that a band with this much self-awareness hasn’t noticed their audience here might have been bigger than usual and just why that might be.

Still, Wild Flag’s apparent new popularity hasn’t seemed to effect on their sound. Quite the opposite probably, as they sound very close to what someone would expect to hear from a band fronted by the voices behind Helium and Sleater-Kinney. So, somehow the band came into the show at the 9:30 Club appealing both to the underground artistic and the mainstream popularity fans, without feeling any necessity to merge these disparate expectations.

All Wild Flag’s songs bring with them the same kind of post-punk energy—with an ever so slight hint of riot grrl running in background—that fans came to expect from bands like Sleater-Kinney and Helium. Wild Flag somehow retains the quirky nature of their previous bands, standing traditional pop ideologies on their collective heads in the process.

The band employs clever, driving hooks that help them sound considerably different than most bands of the same vein. But what really sets them apart musically is the way both Timony’s and Brownstein’s vocals quiver and sound distinctly different in their own right.  They’re dead set on not sounding like any other female-fronted bands in the pop universe.

As we’ve noted, possibly the most noticeable difference with Wild Flag is the band’s inherent maturity. This is something that’s almost taken for granted in a male dominated band. But it’s somehow considered unusual when the same phenomenon occurs with an all female band. Wild Flag’s songs are subtly more complex than something that the same musicians might have come up with earlier in their careers. Of course, all of these women are past their mid-30s and have been playing the indie-rock circuit for quite a long time at this point, so that’s bound to happen. It’s just not something that happens often.

These musicians all know how to craft an effective song in their sleep and it shows. Not only that, but they’re experienced in engaging the crowd, playing off one another expertly to deepen and enhance the effect. Brownstein and Timony improvised bits in between songs, demonstrating their natural sense of self deprecation. In so doing, they kept the show as loose as possible.

It’s not Wild Flag’s intention to turn gender roles on their ear in a male dominated field like rock music. But by simply going out on the stage and playing straight-ahead indie rock, this just kind of happens anyway. It’s a nice, unintended consequence of Wild Flag simply rocking out, and it should help them gain increasing exposure as the word gets out on the circuit.

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener. Read more of his work in Riffs at the Washington Times Communities.

 


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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