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Photos by Julian Vu

Words by Phil Runco

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It’s hard to say what reasonable expectations were for Wild Flag going into its Thursday stop in DC.

This is a band with a mere two recorded songs to its name and less than a dozen shows under its belt.  But it’s also a band with a hell of a pedigree:  Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, Helium’s Mary Timony, and The Minders’ Rebecca Cole.

A curious crowd filled a sold-out Black Cat to hear what the band would unveil, and whatever their expectations were, it’s safe to say: Wild Flag decimated them.

Wild Flag

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Brownstein personally put on her finest sparkly gold shirt, laced up her black boots, and with a shit-eating grin, just stomped those expectations to pieces.

Unlike her former cohort in Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein didn’t assemble a band around herself.  To watch Wild Flag is to see four members operating on equal footing, each one bringing something unique to its spin on mid-60s psychedelic garage rock and meatier 70s classic rock.  Generally, Timony repped the former and the Brownstein the latter, while Cole buoyed the mood with peppy keyboards, and Weiss – as always – held everything together with thundering simplicity.

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But Timony and Brownstein drew boundaries vaguely, ripping solos on each other’s songs at will and occasionally trading off hiccupy vocals.  Part of the thrill of Wild Flag is that spirit of collaboration – the fun of it – and the manic energy it produced.   Brownstein’s gaze was fixed frequently on Timony, fishing for a glance that would give her an excuse to come rock beside her.  Behind them, Cole could hardly contain herself, bopping up and down relentlessly throughout the night, her shaggy hair flopping side to side.

Beyond her piano and restless enthusiasm, Cole – often joined by Weiss – added a nice touch of girl group countermelodies to most songs. Elsewhere the band joined in sing-alongs evocative of their riot grrrl roots, though oddly the four never came together vocally.
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The earlier part of the set favored tightly wound pop songs that only spun out of orbit only for fierce but concise solos.  As the set went along, the songs began to unfurl.  The band blew out the back end of “Glass Tambourine”, stretching its psychedelic dissolve into something approaching ten minutes.  Timony in particular – playing it up for her hometown crowd –relished the moment, playing her guitar hoisted above her head, then taking it to the ground with her.  A few songs later, the band pushed the bar house rock of “Racehorse” into extended psychedelic territory, Brownstein gradually losing her shit and coarsely belting: “You better run!”

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Brownstein tapped into feral vigor again – and left behind her guitar – for the encore, a cover of the Patti Smith Group’s punk classic “Ask the Angels.”  The band left the crowd – a (relatively) diverse mix of older record store nerds, goths, teenagers, and Portlandians – clamoring for more.

“I’m a racehorse! Put your money on me!” Brownstein exclaimed earlier.

I’m inclined to agree.

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(Here’s some snaps of the openers, too — ed.)

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Yellow Fever The AquariumThe Aquarium

The Aquarium

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