Indie-girl-rock supergroup Wild Flag played their first New York show since the release of their self-titled album on Saturday, October 15, at Brooklyn’s Bell House. After playing a series of sold-out shows beginning in the spring, the band finally have a proper record to peddle. But as good as that album is—and it’s pretty good—there’s no replacing their live show. Maybe it’s just a natural result of debuting as a live band with no catalog to speak of. But the excitement generated when the band was announced last year and then when they played their first shows and improbably lived up to the hype—that’s tough to capture on record.
It’s possible that the reason the live shows are so energetic is because the band’s Sleater-Kinney half—drummer Janet Weiss and guitarist/singer Carrie Brownstein— were so used to playing huge venues (Weiss with a host of other bands besides SK), and just forgot to tone it down for these smaller clubs. But that would be ignoring the contributions of keyboardist Rebecca Cole and guitarist/singer Mary Timony, who for my money is one of the best female rock guitarist around, period.
On Saturday night, they tore through their album at a blistering pace (though delving into meandering jamming periodically), then threw in a few covers for good measure, one of which was Television’s “See No Evil.” And it really can’t be overstated how well Brownstein and Timony compliment each other. I’d give Timony the nod as far as axe chops go (can’t beat the jagged, Medieval guitar lines and two-finger tapping!) but Brownstein is by far the better showman. But you can definitely see the influence they’re having on each other, especially in Timony’s attempts at keeping up with Brownstein’s master class of Pete Townshend guitar kicks and jumps. They may be the most endearingly dorky guitar histrionics ever, like if Napoleon Dynamite was a girl who was awesome at guitar.
It should be also mentioned that the opener was Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Renaldo + Band—a four-piece that also included SY drummer Steve Shelley—in their first performance as a band, according to Renaldo. “It’s a strange night to be starting a new project,” Renaldo said, referencing the fact that his Sonic Youth bandmates—wife/husband Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore— had just announced their split. He actually made quite a few references to the divorce, introducing one song saying “This goes out to a couple of friends of mine who are having a tough time,” and after introducing Shelley on the drums, “We’re still playing together.”
Musically, Renaldo’s sound didn’t veer too far from Sonic Youth’s musical palette. You could easily imagine Gordon or Moore speak-singing his lyrics, which may be a backhanded way of saying that the tunes sounded like decent facsimiles of Sonic Youth songs.