Wild Flag w/ Yellow Fever
By Kaylen Hann | 7 November 2011
Being too congenial in Craigslist inquiry emails occasionally pays off. Sometimes it just means dealing with a lot of undesired, winky-face e-mails/texts long after I have said, “Er, never mind about the bike, dude.” But sometimes, sometimes: it means I get shuffled ahead of the masses for something just bonkers-rewarding.
And, in this instance, my e-wiles wound up winning me an astonishingly, reasonably priced pair of tickets to the Wild Flag/Yellow Fever show at the Empty Bottle, a show that had extended an extra night and sold out the both of them long before I could get my grubby little hands on some tickets. By the time I went Craigslist-scrounging, tickets to either night were going for roughly $45-70 a pop. With the exception of one, lone soul asking a mere, humbled sum of $40 for two. (Nick, if you are reading this: dude, you are the fucking best and I mean that.)
An avid and pre-emptive pouncer-on-er of shows, I was uncharacteristically late to the party for Wild Flag. While watching my fair share of Portlandia, I hadn’t listened too much to their self-titled record and I wasn’t even planning to see a show the week in question. The driving catalyst? None other than the ripping sensation of my Canadian BFF and former roommate making the trek down from the Cold Northwest with the explicit instructions that we should go to a show. The snag being: she didn’t know what was worth seeing anymore so it was all in my hands to select the who/when/where.
Now accommodating non-specific concert requests—let alone when you don’t know what the person is digging these days—is a whopping lot of stress for those of us who take ultimate responsibility for their guests having a good time, and who also have to fork up the fliff for beers when these shows go awry. While I remember the ladyfriend getting gooey over Sufjan and Tegan and Sara, I had no real compass or gauge. Thus, I decided to play it right smack on the indie, all-girl rock nose.
Wild Flag’s straight-up ’70s psych-rock with arresting yelps and clipped punches of vocals seemed like something within anyone’s realm of enjoyment. If you like some well-executed rock, you like Wild Flag, right? And who doesn’t like rock? Given the twice-sold-out buzz enshrouding the show, and the really damn-cool band composition—2/3rds of Sleater-Kinney (Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss), with the addition of Helium’s Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole of the only retroactively-appreciated-by-me Minders—and especially after watching and re-watching the band’s palpably wicked cover of the Stones’ “Beast of Burden,” I was personally geared-up and flush with the unflappable confidence that this was one hell of a great idea I’d had, and the pair of tickets falling in my lap verged on brilliant Kismet.
Two concerns still hung in the balance. For Wild Flag: the sound quality. During my Youtube sussings-out, their performances seemed to live or die based on the sound-checking and alignment of Timony and Bronstein’s vocal pitches with their guitars. Empty Bottle, having forked up both crystal-clear and muddy listening experiences in the past, left a minute bee of worry buzzing about in my brainhive.
As for Yellow Fever, my primary concern was: it would be boring? As much as I enjoy the neurotic twitch-and-race of “Cats and Rats’” lyrics—“cats and rats and cats and rats and cats and rats”—the songs are stringently reined-in by controlled keyboards, bare minimum guitar, and a constant infusion of drum spatter.
Tickets in-pocket, fingers crossed after glugging back our dual 20oz Red Bulls we ever-so-alertly made our way to Empty Bottle and took our place stage-left amongst the accumulating throngs for the inevitably late-starting Yellow Fever set. Instantly, seeing the instruments already set up, and the Empty Bottle neck-tattooed pros triple-checking the sound, a calmness began to descend upon my over-caffeinated spirit.
True to the Youtubes, the Yellow Fever songs did obstinately adhere to expected formula, with small bursts of revelatory rock-outs that wound up being enough to quench my personally escalating need for the music to reciprocate my rising vigor. Also true to the Youtubes: it was a little on the boring side. However, there are artists that use boring to their advantage—like Sharon Van Etten—and Yellow Fever’s conservative use of escalation, executed with that martial arts master set jawline, was nothing short of borderline maddening, and really, really satiating in those tender and heart-pounding morsel moments when it drove over into climax. Yeah, I shook my shoulder to Adam Jones‘s drumming and their delightfully ardent use of the cowbell, keeping the songs frenetic even while Jennifer Moore‘s poised vocals were at their most poised.
Awesome or no, Wild Flag employed no such tactical restraint. For about as much as Yellow Fever used the cowbell, Timony and Bernstein kicked out like angry ponies, Timony’s knit leggings be damned, from the moment they took the stage, sometimes meeting centerstage for excited, hopping duets, taking turns chucking broad-ass grins at one another. Having limited material to draw from (roughly an album and a couple covers), each song from the set was expanded and poured full-heartedly into by the increasingly sweaty-haired bandmates, with a raucous and epic, extended rendition of already-lengthy track “Racehorse” fleshed out into a fulfilling sampler platter of everything I love about galloping rock ballads. Brownstein nearly impaled her sweaty face on the microphone, yelping and executing guitar licks with the same fiery tongue, slowing to a heated crawl halfway through before delivering the final erupting blows. A fevered applause for encore naturally ensued. And in response, an equally blistering final set of songs.
The crowd kept cheering, even though the band had tapped all their existing material. While the “Beast of Burden” cover I was particularly hankerin’ for was swapped for Patti Smith’s “Ask the Angels,” my spirits boiled over just about the time Timony melted to the floor: spent.
Heart aglow, ears abuzz, I asked my cohort what she thought. Though I could feel in my bones that the answer was something along the lines of “incredible,” her response was shockingly blasé: “The first few just sounded like noise. But then it got okay.” Instantaneously my heart went a-plummeting and the wind let out of my sails in a gargantuan, deflating puff. I wasn’t sure what the root of this mediocre reception was, until she spoke the most disheartening confession imaginable after such a stellar rock show:
“I am mostly into dubstep right now.”