I guess we can’t have nice things. I remember the very moment I found out about Wild Flag. I was in my community’s finest record store, indulging in my usual practice of compulsively checking the Sleater-Kinney section, even though my collection was basically complete (I’m still lacking the self-titled debut in case anyone is looking for a holiday gift-giving idea). As I forlornly muttered about the demise of the band and my own inability to ever see them play live, the gentleman behind the counter gently directed me to a flyer on the front door of the shop. Sure enough, there on the poster announcing a live date for a new band called Wild Flag at a local club was a picture of an all-female quarter, one half of which was comprised of former members of my beloved Sleater-Kinney.
This was in early 2011, months and months before their self-titled debut album was released. There was almost no info to be found about the band online (I don’t believe I even knew Mary Timony was part of the group until the actual show). We bought our tickets on faith: faith in Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, primarily. Particularly with Brownstein, it had been a long stretch of musical inaction since the end of Sleater-Kinney, during which she worked through vocational restlessness with a job at an ad agency, writing a blog for NPR and, maybe most unexpectedly, exploring the parameters of regionally-specific sketch comedy. If she was back in a band, it must be worthwhile.
It was. The band was tight and explosive at the same time, playing a fierce, fiery brand of rock ‘n’ roll that was exhilarating to witness. Undoubtedly still in the discovery process–though there had been a few prior shows, it was Wild Flag’s first tour–the foursome played off of each other with a thrilling energy. They roared through their songs and, lacking quite enough material to fill out a headlining set, they included a couple beautifully played and well-chosen covers, something they had a penchant for doing throughout their entire time together.
When the album was released in the fall, it was absolutely fantastic. And I still maintain that the single “Romance” was clearly–clearly!–the best song of the year. I don’t think the album got the attention it deserved, in part because many music critics were quick to dismiss it as little more than an indie rock supergroup. It never struck me that way, as rock stars goofing around. It was coherent, smart, well-played, propulsive. It was, in short, every a great rock record needs to be. I was all in. I was a fan.
Those statements of fandom are, by necessity, in the past tense. Officially, the end of Wild Flag is termed a hiatus instead of a break-up, but the same was true of Sleater-Kinney, and I wouldn’t count on them coming back any time soon. The geographic distance between the various band members was cited as a major reason, but sure it Brownstein’s chronic creative wanderlust that keeps taking her away from playing music has to be a major factor. Maybe she’ll cycle back around to wanting to play with Wild Flag or some other new outfit someday, giving me a chance to stand in front of a stage and watch her high-kick her way through a set again. If not, I’ll still have joyful memories of a March night in a surprisingly underpopulated club where I got the best introduction to a great band that a person can have: watching them play their hearts out.
Listen or download –> Wild Flag, “See No Evil”
(Disclaimer: The Wild Flag album remains in print and you should run not walk to your favorite local, independently-owned record store and secure a copy if you don’t already have one. If you already have one, it’s not a bad idea to get a back-up copy. The song I share here was a live track, presumably bootlegged, that made the rounds online back when Wild Flag was a going concern. I’m posted it here because I don’t believe it’s something that can purchased is a way that compensates…well…anybody. Still, if I’m asked to remove the song from this humble little corner of the interweb by someone with due authority to make such a request, I will gladly and promptly do so.)