On March 5, all-girl supergroup Wild Flag made their New York City debut with two shows at the tiny Rock Shop in Brooklyn. Featuring some of indie rock’s most experienced and flat-out rocking women, the fledgling band sounded exactly like the sum of its parts. Now, for most other bands, that might seem like faint praise. However, when your “parts” are made up of two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney (guitarist/singer Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss), ex-Helium frontwoman Mary Timony, and Rebecca Cole of the Minders, that’s a sum that most bands can only dream of.
Having played only a handful of shows before their Brooklyn double-bill, the band was clearly still working out the kinks. But it was easy to see what drew the band together. There’s clearly a musical kinship. Besides Brownstein and Weiss sharing time in Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein and Timony had a one-off side project called The Spells back in the late 90′s. And as with The Spells, Timony and Brownstein split lead vocal duties and play dueling lead guitars in Wild Flag. As far as current rock band lineups go, there might not be a better 1-2 punch of guitarists than Timony and Brownstein. Timony seems more technically proficient, breezing through two-finger tapping solos, while Brownstein trades more in killer riffs and Pete Townshend-esque theatrics. But their styles, while distinct, never get in each other’s way, and mesh beautifully. And as much as one may lament the demise of Sleater-Kinney and Helium, seeing this new guitar pairing almost makes one wish those bands had broken up sooner. Almost.
Despite Wild Flag having only officially released their first song, “Glass Tambourine,” a few days ago via an NPR stream, the tightly-packed crowd couldn’t have been more excited — unsurprising, given the band’s pedigree. The show was really too big for the venue, which until last year was a sweltering-hot lesbian bar called Cattyshack. The new owners apparently did nothing to fix the air circulation problem, but the crowd didn’t seem to care. After the band tore through an album’s worth of songs, one wondered what they would play for an encore. After the band re-emerged, one crowd member requested “Just play all of that, again!” That would have been quite a feat, since this was already the second show for the band in three hours. Instead, the band ripped off a great cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden,” followed by Patti Smith’s “Ask the Angels.”
As good as the band sounded on Saturday, it’s easy to forget that they only formed late last year. So it’s almost scary to think how good they’ll sound as they really get going. For fans of pounding, guitar-driven, female rock – or really, just rock in general – Wild Flag really have a dream of a lineup.
(Personal sidenote: After the show, I was standing outside the club, and, as a fan of Sleater-Kinney, got a bit of a chuckle/thrill when Carrie Brownstein walked out with a redheaded companion, headed for the street, and hailed a cab with her other hand casually on her hip. As a bonus, Janet Weiss was standing nearby. It was almost perfectly this.)