Show Review: Wild Flag, Drew Grow & The Pastor’s Wives at Great American Music Hall, 11/4/11

by Dakin Hardwick on November 5, 2011

Timony - Weiss - Brownstein. 'Nuff said. (Photo By Emily Anderson)

Just about two weeks shy of one year ago today, a hotly rumored about Wild Flag embarked on their first tour. Nobody new what to expect. Yes, we knew what the pieces were, and most of the people in this band have played together before. As we know from history, without even a single note on a myspace page, they managed to sell out every venue they played along the west coast, melting faces off in each town. This time the band has done some of the more traditional things, like put out a record. (Mind you, one of the best reviewed records of 2011, the self titled Wild Flag) On this chilly November night, the good people of San Francisco were treated to their second ever dosing of Wild Flag. If you weren’t in attendance, which was a rather silly decision to make, after the jump, I will tell you what you missed.

The band with the daunting task of warming the crowd on this chilly November evening was Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives. I came into the show knowing absolutely nothing about them. Moments before they went on, you could see Janet Weiss just off stage with the band, and she seemed to be amping them up for their set. I’m not sure exactly what she said to them, but when they took the stage, they brought an obscene amount of force with them!

They were a somewhat sparse band: Drummer, bassist, vocalist/guitarist, and another guy that seemed to do a little bit of everything. Their sound was so widely varied that it would be impossible to pin down a singular genre. They harmonized like an Appalachian folk/gospel group. Drummer Jeremiah Hayden played heavy, bluesy rhythms in the spirit Patrick Carney (Black Keys) or Meg White (White Stripes). Bassist Kris Doty could pluck an upright with great precision and groove, but also understood how to work an electric bass as a ferocious noise making machine. Vocalist/guitarist/band leader Drew Grow has masterful stage presence, and an amazing voice that blends a Bruce Springsteen gruffness with the emotionally charged, gutteral belt of Conor Oberst. Although the bands secret weapon is Seth Schaper. This man alternated between guitar and keyboard, adding a post punk, angular danceyness to the band’s gospel/folk/blues/noise sound, but also has a killer falsetto that helped bring out a soul influence into the mix. This band brought the listener on a long, twisted journey that absolutely blew my mind! One of the stronger opening acts that I’ve seen in a while. Also, last time that I saw Sleater-Kinney at this venue, the opening act was The Black Keys. I think Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives are capable of that level of success.

One thing that I have always loved about Wild Flag/Quasi/ex-Sleater-Kinney/ex-Bright Eyes/ex-Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks drummer Janet Weiss is that she always sets up her own gear. It respect that. It also hints at the kind of perfectionism that you get with this band. She doesn’t set up her own gear because she can’t find someone to do it for her. At a venue like the Great American Music Hall, they have staff on hand for that. She does it to insure that everything is exactly how it needs to be.

The band casually came on stage, and, with very little pomp and circumstance, jumped into their current single “Electric Band.” This song, with it’s steady 4/4 beat, pitch perfect harmonies, and it’s array of hooks brings sounds like it could be from any era. It’s a perfect classic rock song. It was played with skill and precision, and, it was the perfect set opener. It got the band warmed up, it got the crowd loosened up. This song is the one the helped raise the “Flag.” The next 75 minutes was devoted to the “Wild.”

Which each passing song, the intensity and energy levels rose dramatically. I think in order to preserve each other’s voices, co-vocalists/co-guitarists Carrie Brownstein and Mary Timony alternated lead vocals. You know how some shows are an emotional roller coaster? A Wild Flag show is like one, only one of those coasters where they start you out nice and gentle, then each loop and wind is a little more intense and severe,  and you wonder after each one, “How is this going to one up the last one?” And it does. At the midway point in the set, they played a song called “Boom.” And it only went up from there. I mean, how do you get bigger and louder than an actual explosion?

Of course, it wasn’t just the pure, sonic power that was engrossing thew audience, spawning what may have been the first “all female” mosh pit I’ve ever experienced. The charisma on that stage is unbelievable. Weiss and keyboardist Rebecca Cole, a nearly indestructible rhythm section, were the steady “rock” on stage, while Timony & Brownstein not only sounded like they were ready to explode, but worked the stage as if any moment they were going to literally blow up. These two women exude more energy than a roomful of toddlers on gummy bears. Whenever one was singing the other was flailing about maniacally, all with out missing a note. And, of course, the guitar playing skill of these women is par none. Brownstein is a riff master, while Timony is the experimentalist. It’s like having Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Glenn Branca, and Thurston Moore all in one band.

To further prove that Wild Flag will still float around a while longer, pushing back that Sleater-Kinney reunion that we are all waiting for, they debuted two new songs. The first one was titled, according to the set list, “Winter Pair.” This was a Brownstein-howled (she didn’t sing this one. show howled it) aggressive punk rock number. There weren’t as many changes throughout this song as there are on other Wild Flag songs, but it didn’t matter because it was still searing. The other new one was called “Nothing,” which featured Timony’s voice and distorted guitar alone at the beginning, only evolving into a piece that I can only describe as psychedelic hardcore. Can you call something brutal and beautiful? Because it was.

They closed their set with a song called “Racehorse.” This was were everything really went nuts. It’s starts out somewhat Doors inspired, with Cole’s keyboard taking center stage, while Brownstein is doing her best Lou Reed inspired beatnik sing/shout. It remains a bit of a hooky, psychedelic workout, before evolving into nothing short of an extend display of noise, chaos, and, well, melody. It’s closest a band this “punk” get to becoming a jam band. Although it’s really not your Phish style endless noodling. This is pure, unbridled passion. Brownstein at various points in the song used the following items to strum her guitar: the stage, her amp, the button of her jeans, other guitars, etc… She turned into the guitar playing equivalent of Animal from Dr Teeth and The Electric Mayhem! Although I forget to actually time it, the song lasted at least 15 minutes. However, it felt like 2.

After that display of ferocity, no human could come back and play longer. But, they encored. Earlier in the set, Brownstein joked about playing “Rainbow Connection,” and Timony seemed to really want to do it. Sadly, we did not get that song. Instead, we got two ripping covers. Brownstein led us through a “Do You Wanna Dance?”, which was a fun, and the aforementioned “all female mosh pit” grew to about twice it’s size. Then, even more unexpected, was a blissful cover of Television’s “See No Evil,” which Timony took lead vocals on, and made it her own. I actually forgot it was a cover by the end of the song.

It was a joyful experience, and, really, no human being should go without seeing this band live. Nobody.

Setlist:

Electric Band
Short Version
Future Crimes
Something Came Over Me
Boom
Glass Tambourine
Black Tiles
Winter Pair
Nothing
Romance
Racehorse

Encore
Endless Talk
Do You Wanna Dance (Bobby Freeman)
See No Evil (Television)

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Photos by Emily Anderson.

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