Live Review: Wild Flag at the Casbah, November 20, 2010

No one who attended Saturday’s Wild Flag show knew quite what to expect. The newborn supergroup had no recordings to its credit and only a handful of shows under its belt. All that was really known about the band was its prestigious lineup, which included two members of defunct riot grrl legends Sleater-Kinney. As the all-girl group teased on its Twitter account, “For all you know, we’re a polka band.”

The possibility that Wild Flag would show up at the Casbah wielding accordions instead of guitars didn’t prevent people from packing the place. The set began with the pounding beats and twist-and-shout harmonies of “Electric Band,” and the members’ mixture of confidence and experience was immediately apparent. Unfortunately, that confidence was undermined by Mary Timony’s sheepish vocal turn, which lacked the necessary power to punch through the instrumental onslaught.

Vocals weren’t a problem on “Short Version,” which found the always-amazing Carrie Brownstein taking over lead duties. Brownstein’s voice was frequently overshadowed in Sleater-Kinney by Corin Tucker’s bleating vox, so it was immensely satisfying to see her finally play the alpha female, cutting loose with flying kicks and writhing on the floor in true rock star fashion. “Arabesque” had the entire venue jumping, thanks to Brownstein’s serpentine guitar lines and fellow SK-alum Janet Weiss’ superhuman drumming.

Wild Flag were clearly having a blast, and their joy spread to the crowd. The melodic “Endless Talk” was the band’s best song and — not coincidentally — the one most reminiscent of Sleater-Kinney. The Led Zeppelin-esque intro and lurching verses of “Glass Tambourine” made it another standout, with Rebecca Cole’s keyboard bass lines churning beneath a ghostly, chanted refrain. The song gave way to a protracted coda the likes of which are rarely seen this side of classic rock, replete with flashy drum work and a maelstrom of pedal effects.

As the set wound to a close, the band brought its classic rock influence full circle with a handful of covers that included The Velvet Underground’s “She’s My Best Friend,” a gender-bending spin on The Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden,” and — in the most crowd-pleasing moment of the night — a keyboard-heavy rendition of Patti Smith’s “Ask the Angels,” which provided a stirring finish to Wild Flag’s triumphant performance. It also firmly laid to rest those pesky polka rumors — as one person in the crowd succinctly shouted at the band, “You guys fucking rock!”

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