THERE was so much buzz about Wild Flag – the indie super group made up of members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium, Quasi and the Minders – that the question going into Thursday night’s show at the Troubadour, the second of two packed Los Angeles shows, was whether this would be a good night of indie rock, or something transcendent.
The answer turned out to be, a little of both.
The Portland/DC four piece is a kind of back-to-basics girl-group garage band. There’s also a bit of jazz-damage to the guitar playing – Helium’s Mary Timony, who took up more space onstage than I expected and seemed to smile a lot more than I recall from the 1990s, has aways played chords that were harmonically strange and arrayed up and down the neck of the guitar. With Carrie Brownstein, in an outgrown Joey Ramone haircut unleashing rockstar kicks and Pete Townshend windmills, this was a band – despite a keyboard replacing the bass – harkening back to the great two-guitar groups of punk New York.
So it’s hard not to miss with this combination, and Brownstein was a killer frontwoman and oddly friendly host. A New York Times review from early in the tour described the band as having trouble syncing up – that was certainly not a problem last night.
When the show was only good, or perhaps really good, the songs were simple three-chord stomps, with some great guitar freakouts near songs' end. But they were a little straightforward and easy to predict. Of two new songs, one was not quite ready despite a cool bridge.
The very best stuff – the two opening songs ("Black Tiles" and "Electric Band," both from the very fine debut LP on Merge) and few tracks across the middle of the set, and the triumphant encore – made clear why we're all so excited about this band. These songs saw one of the best drummers in the business, Quasi's Janet Weiss, kicking it hard, and a weirdly affectionate combat between the two guitars evoking memories of Verlaine and Lloyd.
The encore made these roots explicit: Television’s See No Evil (above), the Stones’ Beast of Burden, and a Ramones-inspired Do You Wanna Dance. The Fiery Furnaces' Eleanor Friedberger (who I seem to be running into a lot recently – she hangs at my coffee shop when she is in town) came up to sing the last two songs.
Let’s hope this band has a long and rich career. They’re not enough to save indie rock, but they might save a few souls, one night at a time.
I'm a former LA Times arts and culture writer, sometime New York Times, GQ and Salon contributor, the co-editor of "The Misread City: New Literary Los Angeles," and an enthusiast of film, wine, indie rock, retro culture, archtop guitars and California history.