First of all, let me just say that there was a part of me going into this show with the weight of Catholic guilt around my neck. You see, I had a chance to see Sleater-Kinney on their final tour at Lollapalooza in ’06 and I saw the Violent Femmes instead. It’s a long story and I stand by my decision but I nevertheless had to live with the guilt of knowing that I’d missed one of the great punk acts of my time. So when I heard about the formation of a supergroup featuring two former SK members, I knew I would have to catch them to atone for past sins and on Saturday night, my opportunity finally arrived.
As I walked into the festival at 8.35, I noted approvingly how packed the area around the stage already was for Wild Flag’s 9.00pm set. What was especially heartening was the see the range of people there. Of course, being Wicker Park, there were the scenesters you would expect at any such rock gathering (ahem) but they only comprised maybe half the audience. Standing in front of me were two high-schoolers anxiously trying to push forward for better position. To my left was a fairly respectable-looking gent who must have at least some recollection of Woodstock and next to him were two shirtless hipsters who looked both incredibly excited and oddly nervous.
Even though I instantly recognized Janet Weiss and I knew the other band members from photos, they carried themselves quietly and professionally the way so many rock talents do when not performing. The sound check was smooth and somewhat anti-climatic.
Then, seemingly in the middle of tuning up, Mary Timony let loose a wailing guitar line and Wild Flag sprang to life. Carrie Brownstein ripped her pick across her strings, Janet Weiss flung herself at her drums, while Rebecca Cole laid down surprisingly fluid basslines on her keyboard. The set started at a 10 and only amped up from there.
Although the group’s sound definitely has a lot of touchstones in the Zeppelin-meets-Bikini Kill of The Woods, the four women of Wild Flag managed to work a fairly broad palate of sounds into their set. They could go from energetic rocker (“Future Crimes”), to extended 60’s jam (“Glass Tambourine”), to pop-punk singalong (“Romance”) without breaking a sweat. Of course, I highlight those songs because they have been officially released, but I had no trouble of slipping into the grooves or guitar lines of the wealth of new material they showed off.
The joy wasn’t limited to the music, however. Seeing Wild Flag on stage was seeing four absolute pros rock the fuck out of their instruments and love every minute of it. Timony pogoed wildly when she wasn’t strumming her guitar vertically like a 70’s rock superstar. Weiss gave her usual drumming performance, which is to say hectic, forceful and thundering and Coles’s backing vocals added just the right touch of sweetness to a number of songs. But it was Brownstein who stole the show. Corin Tucker would have been proud to see her stage presence that would put Joey Ramone or Thurston Moore to shame, jumping, kicking and shredding with reckless joy that you couldn’t help but catch.
Halfway through the set, I looked to the older gentleman on my left. Apparently his salt and pepper beard belied his willingness to bounce wildly to the music. Meanwhile the high school teens had migrated to the stage in excitement and the two nervous guys to my left were awkwardly waltzing with each other. This music was connecting.
Indeed, by the time the set was done, my friends and I were convinced a full hour had passed and started heading for the exit before the ladies were goaded back onstage by the crowd for an encore. They complied, trotting out a stumbling, charming and heartfelt cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” before closing with Patti Smith’s “Ask The Angels”. The band did have some issues during the final song, which gave Brownstein time to deliver the line of the night as Timony and Cole scrambled to settle on a key.
“That’s all right. I don’t give a fuck because Patti Smith wouldn’t have given a fuck.”
I’m sure that Smith, a native Chicagoan from around Wicker Park would second that.