Radio City Music Hall is really a breathtaking venue. Not one that is necessarily recommended for dirty rock shows, but the interior, the bandshell, the incredibly spacious bathrooms that are instead referred to as “lounges” are quite stunning. However, this night was not about admiring architecture. On to the bands!
Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, Rebecca Cole, and Janet Weiss make up WILD FLAG . You may remember Brownstein and Weiss from the seminal riot grrl band Sleater-Kinney, which pretty much makes them legends already. Mary Timony was in Helium, and also the side project The Spells with Brownstein. Cole was in the band The Minders, who frequently opened for Sleater-Kinney. Oh, the tangled webs we weave. Basically, WILD FLAG is like a post riot grrl feminist supergroup. And these ladies kick it like they always have. Literally. Carrie high kicks and high steps while wildin’ out on guitar, Cole adds melodic synths and vocals, Timony does her indie steps and arm windmills, and of course sick drums fills abound from Weiss. They performed with the remnants of their riot grrl edge, but with their new Wild “Flaggy” energy adding some more pop and psychedelic elements as well. All 4 women trade vocals on the songs and sound how you may expect them to sound based on the members’ history.
One song that stood out was “Glass Tambourine,” which seems to be their lead single from their yet to be released album. This one is a good example of the more psychedelic path they veer down at times “Don’t break it, glass tambourine,” Timony croons. This was the second to last song of their 30 min set, and it was full of feedback. Bass held high above her head, Timony summoned the feedback while Carrie played to her and Weiss. This song can be streamed at NPR, with some quotes from Brownstein stating that it’s one of their favorites to play live because of the chaotic elements. I agree, and it was one of the reasons I wished this wasn’t a sit down concert, because I would have liked to be on the floor with room to dance.
I have to admit, Superchunk was the first reason that I wanted to go to this show. They’ve played some shows in NY since releasing their last album, Majesty Shredding, but I’ve always somehow missed them. When this show was announced, and I saw they were playing with WILD FLAG and Bright Eyes, well, that was a no brainer. Superchunk’s set did not disappoint, and again I wanted to be up in front of the stage like how I’m used to a high energy rock show to be, but Superchunk still brought the energy as if that was the case. They played some mad old songs, like “Precision Auto” (which was released about 20 years ago), and “Skip steps 1 and 3” from No Pocky for Kitty. Those songs were followed up with newer songs “Rosemarie,” which went straight into “Digging for Something.” What I loved about their set was that they sound exactly the same as they always have. They are like a perfect time capsule of the 90s – still just as good at what they do as 10 or 20 yrs ago. That’s not to say they have lost any relevance, however. They ended on “Hyper Enough,” with the same amount of energy as when it first came out circa 1995. Singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan commented on the elegant space they were playing in, as opposed to a more grungy rock venue, saying that it felt like being a part of something bigger. Like my adolescent heart? They haven’t lost their 90s indie rock charm at all, and with all the jumping they still do on stage, they are clearly still hyper enough.
As expected, although this was a seated show, the second the lights when down for Bright Eyes’ set the entire orchestra section was on their feet. It was immediately clear that this was also a light show, and an overall spectacle. The set up of instrumentation alone was impressive. It looked like there were two drummers from my angle, 5 keyboards, and throughout the set band members played slide guitar, trumpet, and accordian in additon to their regular instruments. Conor Oberst switched between electric and acoustic guitar, and keyboard (or was it electric piano?). The sound was big and booming, lending a grandiose air to Obert’s songs, old and new. Many of the songs played were off the new album, The People’s Key, but the songs that got the most applause were “Bowl of Oranges,” “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” (in the encore), and “Aimless.” It made me remember back in the day when Obert’s recording sounded like lo-fi one takes he did in his bathroom. Now here he is, headlining Radio City Music Hall with grand production and sound. It’s hard to think about Bright Eyes as being an emerging artist since he already has such an extensive catalog, and is extremely well-known in indie circles, yet there are still people who have never heard of Bright Eyes. This show made me think, wow, if he hasn’t already emerged, he must be emerging now. At times the lights from the stage were turned outword on the audience, and it was remarkable to see every chair taken from the floor to the highest balcony. Oberst was every bit the showman the crowd came to see. He spoke to us like we were all just hanging out, informing us that he was giving up apologizing for Lent. No apologies were even needed.
On the last two songs Oberst’s amp and backup amp suddenly died, but he wasn’t phased. “That’s ok, I can just sing.” No one was angry about that. Oberst played to the crowd well, walking back and forth across the stage, and jumping down into the front row for a few lines of a song. His guitar was ready to be properly amplified just in time for a guitar solo at the very end of the last song. “Thank you so MUCH New York!” He cried into the mic. You’re welcome, Conor. You are welcome.
WILD FLAG has no discography to speak of yet, but they are releasing a 7” on April 7th, and rumor has it a full length is due this fall on Merge records. They are continuing to tour southeast and turn west. Sans Bright Eyes, but they pick up Times New Viking along the way.