It was a night for new beginnings in Philadelphia Wed., Oct. 19, as indie rock supergroup Wild Flag and a new band from Fiery Furnaces member Eleanor Friedberger cut loose on a crowd gathered at the month-old venue Union Transfer. For all the newness, though, it ended up being a night for older classic sounds. Either way, it was a good show.
Union Transfer, a new 600-capacity venue located in the old Spaghetti Warehouse on 10th and Spring Garden, is a joint partnership from Philly locals R5 Productions and Four Corners Management and New York City group Bowery Presents. In other words, no Live Nation, and that's a good thing. The space has tons of room to move, but it's not so large that it kills intimacy. There's plenty room for drunks at the bars. Hell, there's a bar in a whole other room, so hopefully people who come to concerts just to drink can get their fill without pissing off other attendees. The sound is a little dubious--muddled and bass-heavy--but that's pretty much standard for a venue this size. Union Transfer is still independent and pretty cool. Also, they have a reasonably priced parking lot.
I had plenty of time to note Union Transfer's layout (three bars!), as Friedberger took the stage about 50 minutes after her advertised start time. Supported by an ace backing band, she played through some easy going tunes that bordered on the Fleetwood Mac side of the rock 'n' roll spectrum. When the band got to grooving, the tunes were actually quite beautiful, but after a while Friedberger's songs kind of blurred together for me. She has a tendency to repeat phrases just a little too much ("It's a critical year / 2010" comes to mind), and several tunes felt too slow. Her latest material has a '70s L.A. pop rock vibe, which felt like an odd pairing for Wild Flag's looser, louder tendencies.
While there are still some records to look forward to this year, Wild Flag is easily one of the best albums of 2011. It's fun and loud and awesome. Yet Wild Flag's live show puts that record to shame. Everything Wild Flag does well in the studio, they do even better live. When Carrie Brownstein, Rebecca Cole, Mary Timony and Janet Weiss came on stage, they proceeded to have a whole lot of fun for 60-plus minutes while rocking faces off. Their tunes were more psychedelic, complemented by all manner of guitar poses ranging from high kicks to windmills. Timony even played behind her head at one point. Weiss and Cole's cooed backing vocals were spot on throughout. The stage banter was hilarious ("There are so many steps to a stage dive, and they all end in the hospital," said Brownstein. "This is like a Fugazi show," responded Dischord alumnus Timony).
With only one 40-minute full-length to their credit, the biggest challenge the fearsome foursome faced in headlining this show was filling time. They certainly met that challenge head-on with stage banter, covers (including an excellent take on Television's "See No Evil" during the two-song encore) and a couple of new tracks. They also jammed the dickens out of the tunes "Glass Tambourine" and "Racehorse." I wasn't tracking it, but I'm pretty sure "Racehorse" went on for at least 15 minutes. There were like five guitar solos. The recorded version is just under seven minutes, and it actually sounds a little empty to me now, simply because the band so thoroughly explored its every nook and/or cranny live. Yet for all its freewheeling, rambling quality, "Racehorse" came off as a tightly written piece, with the members locked into each other the whole time. Yeah, it was a long-ass song, but it was a good one, building up and releasing tension several times over. Simply put, the Wild Flag tour needs to be seen by all. The gals are funny and furious in equal measure, and the tunes deliver some fine psychedelia.