After reading about Wild Flag's show in Olympia from several different sources, I felt like I more or less knew what to expect -- sweet rock songs with fantastic riffage, bluesy organ and a few (understandable) kinks to work out. I also knew to brace myself: the show sold out almost as soon as it was announced, and there were approximately five million fucking people trying to cram into the High Dive, a venue whose shows have always been plagued by its unfortunate bottleneck shape (see also: Moe Bar). It can't be helped, and it isn't too bad when it's not crammed with bodies, but it tends to be an uncomfortable place to be on a normal Friday night, let alone when Janet Weiss (drums, duh), Carrie Brownstein (guitar), Mary Timony (guitar) and Rebecca Cole (keys) are playing their third show ever for a band that has, to the best of my knowledge, put nothing complete to tape.
This is not to disparage the band's live show, which was truly badass and convinced me that their upcoming album, whenever it comes out, will be cash money. But Wild Flag already had its audience. Everyone was there to see them, and we all knew it. So the coolest surprise about the evening for me turned out to be how Kelli Schaefer, who lives and works with Drew Grow and the rest of his band the Pastors' Wives (save Seth Schaper, who is married and has his own grown-up house with dogs and stuff) silenced the whole room over the course of her set.
|Janet Weiss and Carrie Brownstein|
I got there about one song after Schaefer started playing over deafening chatter, and immediately thought of that line from the Neko Case song "In California" (Playing songs that don't matter/For people who chatter endlessly) and felt a little bad for Schaefer, whose ominous, anti-gospel pop songs come off like the ambitious little sister to Drew's music. But everyone quieted for "Black Dog," then shut the fuck up completely during "Ghost of the Beast," her most percussive, intense and probably best song. How did I know? Because there are rests worked in that amplify those moments of tension, and in those moments, the room was silent. Literally. Silent. It would've been a really good song to go out on -- the next song neutralized the energy a little bit -- but the spooky effect lingered.
I also really liked Royal Baths, a psychedelic three-piece from San Francisco with two guitars and a mesmerizing drummer. It sort of brought the mood down a little bit, but when Wild Flag finally started after a lengthy set-up time, the room started buzzing. Three shows in, the band seemed to be hitting its stride -- there were a few false starts and moments of disunity, but for the most part, everyone seemed to be gelling pretty well. The looks of concentration on everyone's faces made it clear that they were far from comfortable with the songs. For proof, see Exhibit A:
And Exhibit B:
That said, I'd much rather see a band that's uncomfortable up there than one that's clearly bored with the songs they're playing, and even when they're not playing perfectly, it's clear that these women are indie rock heroes for a reason. When it comes to vocals, Wild Flag is a democracy -- everyone takes turns on the mic -- which is a good idea because when Carrie Brownstein sings the band sounds a lot like Sleater-Kinney. Saying so may irritate Brownstein and Janet Weiss, who would probably like to move on, but then again, is it so wrong to sound like the band you used to be in? Especially when said band has put out so many solid albums?