The High Dive, Champaign, IL
Just like most other rock music criticism nerd types, I went gaga for Wild Flag’s self-titled debut on Merge Records. The album came with the weight of the world on its shoulders—EMA aside, there had not exactly been a lot of strong female-fronted rock releases in 2011. The record was responsible for representing not just itself or the strength of the band, but rather for being a kind of manifesto for Girls Who Rock©™. Somehow, improbably, the record not only met but exceeded expectations. Carrie showed that she still had it, Mary’s songs were a revelation that I’m sure prompted many people to revisit the Helium catalog and realize just how damn good Mary’s songs have always been, and the production was crisp. Effortlessly, these four girls managed to toss off the rockingest rock album of the year.
All this is to say what anybody who has listened to the album likely knows—it is a force of nature, nearly elemental, and almost review proof. No matter what one can say about the songs, they speak for themselves both more eloquently and more directly. Any attempt to explain the album only dilutes it. So it was with the live blistering live show two weeks ago in Champaign. I could try to set the scene and describe what it was like to watch the extended space jam at the end of “Glass Tambourine” or how kinetic the room was for the set-ending 1-2 punch of “Romance” and “Racehorse,” but somehow trying to put it into words would weaken the experience in my memory.
Suffice to say that the band tore through their entire debut record, played two brand new songs (one of which—the Carrie Brownstein–sung song I have dubbed “Stolen Weapons”—the band claimed to have finished writing at soundcheck that evening and were playing for the first time ever), and played a loose, fun encore rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden.” Above, listen to the 1980s Los Angeles punk–inspired barrage of “Stolen Weapons.” Below, the setlist:
Stolen Weapons [new song]
Something Came Over Me
Empty Pockets [new song]
Beast of Burden
[N.B.: I have no idea if Stolen Weapons and Empty Pockets are the actual titles of these new songs. I reserve the right, when Wild Flag eventually announce the actual titles of these songs, to criticize their decisions and publicly insist that my titles are better.]