It’s great to see Carrie Brownstein rocking out again. After a few years focusing primarily on writing about music (and acting in the hilarious IFC sketch series Portlandia), the former Sleater-Kinney guitarist has joined with former S-K drummer Janet Weiss, Helium singer-guitarist Mary Timony and Minders keyboardist Rebecca Cole to form a new band called Wild Flag. The indie-rock supergroup has been playing SXSW shows all around Austin at a relentless pace this week, and their headlining set at the Parish on March 18th showed just what a genius idea Wild Flag is. They’ve been playing together in this formation for less than a year, and they won’t release their debut album for several more months, but this is already an incredibly mesmerizing live band in action.
The show opened with Weiss alone on stage, laying down a crisp, ominous backbeat familiar to fans of her work with Sleater-Kinney and Quasi. After a moment, the other three bandmates walked out and launched into a heavy, grinding guitar groove. “Run if you can,” Timony warned in a ’90s uptalk inflection as the song exploded into a dazzling cloudburst of righteous riffs (from Brownstein and Timony) and multiple-part vocal harmonies.
More than one fan must have wished we didn’t have to wait until this fall to hear a finished studio recording of that spellbinding opening number. The same went for just about every song that followed in the hour-long set. Never content to settle for one mood or melody per tune, Wild Flag pulled off death-defying leaps of genre from moment to moment, conjuring up post-punk fury, jaunty psychedelia and what felt like seventy shades of rock’n’roll besides those. Timony and Brownstein, splitting lead vocal duties more or less evenly, unleashed all kinds of emphatic shouts, nervous yelps, airy harmonies and the occasional fearsome punk scream.
Brownstein and Timony were in ecstatic motion for most of the show. They thrashed around with abandon as they tore through their hair-raising solos, lifting their axes high in the air like true guitar heroes, climbing on risers and bowing exaggeratedly toward one another in time with the beat. Weiss and Cole looked as though they would have been up and jumping, too, if they hadn’t been playing stationary instruments. All four members seemed to be having an absolute blast on stage. No surprise there — those of us down in the audience certainly were.