The immediacy of the live music experience often leaves me with nothing more than a residual feeling afterward. It's usually to good affect, but it's also something less than the experience itself. This is a big reason why people who go to shows keep doing it. We seek that fix. It's through the visceral interaction, and the visceral interaction only, that the musical material grants us these unique emotional experiences.
It's no secret. And it's also no secret that we're not really missing out on anything hugely important if we miss a show that seems hugely important. That's the beauty of music's ephemeral offerings. They happen, they're gone, but there's eventually enough to go around. It makes show write-ups hard (especially about touring acts) because what's exceptional one night is at once fleeting, but analogous moments also occur consistently over a sustained period. The story of my unique experience doesn't feel too different from someone else's unique experience across the country.
That's why I appreicated the underlying drama at Wild Flag's headlining show at Bunk Bar on Wednesday night.
If people were to list the Portland music scene's juiciest stories of recent times, inevitably at some point, they would mention the formation of super group Wild Flag and the internal struggle in Menomena which led to Brent Knopf's resignation from the band. Tangentially, the imminent premier of IFC's Portlandia (which features Wild Flag's Carrie Brownstein (show bottom left, photo by Inger Klekacz)) has generated a simmering excitement around town. By accident and tragedy, the players in these headlines all ended up on stage at this small eastside bar.
Drew Grow and the Pastors Wives were the scheduled openers for the evening, but a car accident that left Grow with multiple broken bones and a totalled tour van (click here for benefit details) put Brent Knopf's Ramona Falls on the spot at the last minute. This choice in some ways felt preordained. Of course the on-deck batter is Portland's freshest lone wolf rock star, opening for Wild Flag - a band of rock mavericks.
Even though Ramona Falls was performing as a quartet, it was difficult to focus away from Brent Knopf. And it wasn't just the brutal clarity of how much Menomena will suffer without his timbrally vivid keyboard parts and charasmatic vocal persona. When Knopf performs, his eyes alternate between intense focus and rolled back. Ramona Falls' dark urgent music animated these features and this intensity, in turn, intensified the music. In the set closer, "Going Once, Going Twice", Knopf sang, "I'm desperate just to find a respite for my mind." It brought to my mind some potential autobiographical influences, but by this point, Knopf's most powerful statement was that Ramona Falls is a force to be reckoned with in its own right.
A lingering feeling from Ramona Falls transitioned the packed in Bunk Bar crowd to Wild Flag. I suspected part of the deal with this show had to be related to Portlandia's premier at the Hollywood Theater on Friday. But it wasn't mentioned once! They played an hour long set that was only a little rough around the edges with shrieking feedback from Mary Timony's amplifier distracting throughout. But Wild Flag's songs ("old" and "new") reflected well-crafted pop sensibilty within a swarming post-punk backdrop. Mary Timony's guitar playing (!) (pictured at top, photo by Alex Lewis) synthesized Ian Mackaye and Thurston Moore, while Carrie Brownstein's bellowed vocals recalled Fugazi (and, well, Sleater-Kinney) in a different light.
They closed with a near 10-minute rendition of "Race Horse" that was incredibly gnarly and featured Timony shredding whilst perched high above the crowd, standing on her amp. At this point, I still don't know the names to 90% of their songs, so forgive me for stopping here. The brass tacks is that they brought an unbelievable energy to the show and their songs were generally way rad. Needless to say, it was a thrilling performance and an exciting start to 2011 for Wild Flag.
So, in the end, the dramatic backdrop kind of fell to the wayside. As usual, the show was about music and pretty much nothing else.
Tagged: live review