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Two Shows: Wild Flag and The Civil Wars [F]
Oct 26th, 2011 by Dan

I doubt that I could attend two more different shows than when I saw Wild Flag and The Civil Wars last week in DC. One was loud, raucous, and distorted while the other was quiet, pure, and crystal clear. Shockingly, given my predilection for loud, upbeat shows, I actually preferred The Civil Wars.

Wild Flag

I didn’t even know Black Cat had a second floor venue, but I guess that’s where the larger shows take place. Unfortunately it comes at the expense of the nicer bar downstairs and the intimacy of the smaller room. Wild Flag is just too big to play that room, I guess, but the upstairs room just feels colder and less fun (that could also be because I was right below an a/c vent).

Long ago I tried to get into Eleanor Friedberger because she was linked on NPR or somewhere else, but her music just didn’t resonate within me. I don’t know if it was just her older material or that I wasn’t listening to full tracks (Amazon previews and whatnot), but her songs were actually pretty solid performed live. Each one escalates as the song goes forward, adding more and more elements and embellishes. Sometimes it’s more subtle than others, but it’s usually there. While I would recommend a little more diversity in a song catalog, it makes for excellent concert music. I don’t think her set was cohesively strong, but on an individual song level I tended to find myself really getting into it about halfway through each song. Like I mentioned in my WIBD post, “Roosevelt Park” was my favorite track, mostly for that funky bass line and sound. It’s a genre that I have an extreme weakness for and it gets me every time.

Eleanor Friedberger

Definitely has a hipster look to her. I haven't seen jeans with a waistline that high since the 90s.

As for Wild Flag, it’s really a shame that the venue doesn’t quite highlight their sound. I don’t know if it was because I was too close, but every element was crashing over each other where they work more cohesively on the album. It seemed that Mary Timony thought so too, because she kept mentioning that she wanted something turned up. Vocals were mostly washed out by the hard guitars, but Rebecca Cole and Janet Weiss’ harmonies usually shone through regardless. They also had some feedback issues that they had to work out (and mostly figured out by the end of the second or third song).

Carrie Brownstein Rocking Out

Carrie was totally into it.

It didn’t sound bad, but it didn’t sound as good as it could have and that’s disappointing because Wild Flag was kicking ass up there. I’ve never seen Mick Jagger move on stage, but every description I’ve ever heard of him came to mind as I watched Carrie Brownstein just own the stage. We’re talking some serious moves all while maintaining her delicious guitar playing. Both Carrie and Mary had this air of professionalism; that they’d been there before and they knew what they were doing so much that they could almost “show off” with their behind the back playing, windmills, and just general guitar artistry. They really owned that stage.

Carrie and Mary

Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein just rocking out.

Not enough has been said about Janet Weiss on drums, but her presence is the glue for the whole performance while Rebecca Cole’s keyboards were essential, but often masked by the overloud crunchy guitar work. The whole band was impressive and the setlist hopped around the album gracefully, only diverting from that course once to play two new songs. Both were impressive and harsher sounding than the mostly pretty sound on Wild Flag. It’ll be interesting to see how they wind up sounding when recorded.

The encore set consisted of covers that I wasn’t into (I don’t dig the Ramones and I’ve never heard of Television, sorry), but were performed with the necessary aplomb. It was a great set that I’m glad I went to, even if the sound issues were a little disappointing.

The Civil Wars

I’m not a fan of shows where you have sit down, assigned seats. There’s an inverse relationship (it’s not quite linear, but I don’t know if I’d say it was quadratic (and definitely not exponential) between how close to the stage you are and how much “soul” or “force” a performance has for me. Sit too far away and it’s just a sterile experience. My seats in the Lincoln Theatre were in the balcony, pretty far removed from the stage. I was worried.

The Civil Wars (With Milo Greene) 004

This is the view from my seat. Definitely a little removed from the stage.

Milo Greene came out and did their remarkably short set. The band itself is large (five members) with anywhere from two to four of those band members playing a guitar of some sort on each song. It results in a layered, complex musical sound that contrasts heavily to The Civil Wars, but it lacked the energy that five young musicians should give the band. Granted, that could have been my seat position, but I know that their closing number far eclipsed the rest of their songs and made me think that I wasn’t just imagining the energy problem. Then again, maybe it was just excitement for The Civil Wars.

The Civil Wars (With Milo Greene) 009

It's a very busy band. Good sound, though.

In any case, they were fun, even if they have to work on their stage banter. Friedberger’s was almost non-existent and Wild Flag kept it short (but great) while Milo Greene kind of floundered up there (made worse by the fact that The Civil Wars have unbelievable stage chemistry and amazing banter). They were solid openers and I liked their music, even though I’d say that the standing O some audiences decided to bestow was…well…overkill.

Then again, The Civil Wars destroyed my illusions about distance and involvement. Those two have an uncanny ability to put an audience under their spell. The best word to describe us during their songs would be rapt. Being an acoustic duo, John Paul and Joy’s production is spartan, which highlights how much the audience is completely drawn in. Every pause or moment of silence was so complete that you could have heard a pin drop. During one such silence I found myself annoyed by a man several rows up chewing something crunchy. It was surreal and amazing.

Like I said before, Joy and John Paul have such lovely chemistry that it’s almost unbelievable that they’re not a couple. They must have unbelievably understanding/trusting significant others to trust that the stage chemistry is just that. It’s smoldering sometimes. Joy is playful, cute, and sexy while JP is an “Aw, shucks” type of cowboy with a tiny sarcastic streak. It just works. When you throw Joy and JP’s fantastic voices into the mix you have alchemized pure gold, my friend.

The Civil Wars (With Milo Greene) 022

They are just so beautiful on stage!

The duo hit every song of theirs I love and really brought down the house with a whisper rather than a bang. It was one of the most special shows I ever attended and I honestly did not expect it. Next time they’re in town I’m definitely buying tickets again.

What I’ve Been Doing 24 Oct 2011 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Oct 24th, 2011 by Dan

The Civil Wars (With Milo Greene) 022

The Civil Wars were absolutely beautiful. What a fantastic show.

Movies

50/50 – What a great movie. It was funny and emotional at all the right times. After seeing it I just wanted to go home and hug my roommate (like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, she got cancer at a young age). I’ve seen her in a grand total of four movies now, but I love Anna Kendrick. She is absolutely adorable and she will go far in this business. So cute!

Solaris – A heady movie about a man who chooses to reject reality for a chance at fixing his mistakes. So muted and quiet and sci-fi without being sci-fi really at all. It’s not gonna blow you away, but it’s remarkably well acted. Potentially could be a stage play if it wasn’t for all the flashbacks.

TV

Homeland – Claire Danes is just perfect at her insecure, crazy, competent role. Morena Baccarin has the most unenviable role. The wife who thought her husband was dead and moved on is not one that audiences attach to. Also she got to take part in the most awkward sex scene ever. I guess I don’t have to keep worrying about this harem subplot (thank god!)

The Walking Dead – I really hate that nonsense with the “He told me…it doesn’t matter what he told me.” plot contrivance. Setting up suspense by explicitly hiding information from the viewers is one of my pet peeves. Hey Merle, a motorcycle in the zombpocalypse is a TERRIBLE IDEA. The premiere was tense and pretty awesome most of the time. I like how it’s going so far, but if they ever kill Glenn…haha.

Music

Eleanor Friedberger – The opener for Wild Flag, she was definitely interesting. All of her songs crescendo to these great endings, but can often sound similar. I fell in love with “Roosevelt Island“, but know that all of her songs aren’t that funky.

Wild Flag – I plan on writing more about both of these concerts, by the way, but these women rocked the stage like they owned it. They were having serious fun up there dancing and playing and almost showing off how great they are at this. I can’t say I love the mix that Black Cat had going (and Mary Timony seemed to agree with me. She kept motioning for adjustments), but it’s never a bad thing to be struck by a wave of sound. Great show, heard some new songs, a lot of fun.

Milo Greene – Super busy on stage as the four frontmen swapped instruments repeatedly during the show. They had some great songs, but their set was so short! The song they closed with was stellar.

The Civil Wars – This concert was…wow. Best show I’ve seen in a long time. More to come later, for sure, but The Civil Wars are a quiet group. It’s just Joy singing (occasionally on piano too) and John Paul on guitar (and also singing) and in moments of silence during the songs you could have heard a mouse sneeze. I heard someone crunching five rows behind me. The audience was rapt and Joy and JP just totally rocked the stage. Just beautiful. I can’t think of a show I enjoyed more this year.

Books

The Last Best League – Coming to a close on this one. I was expecting the team to suddenly turn things around during the summer, but it seems like they might close in last place. Wasn’t expecting that.

Video Games

Batman: Arkham City – Batman’s face isn’t so obscured that he shouldn’t have any expressions. He’s seriously like a robot when he talks. It’s…unnerving. Makes him seem like a sociopath. I might explore it more in this space, but I don’t think the open environment served the game well at all. Arkham City was superior and, while Arkham City was definitely a good game, it’s very far from the best of the year for me and nowhere near as impactful as the previous game.

Gears of War 3 – Shotgun event means…I get killed badly. Not my thing.

Mass Effect 2 – My game was so glitchy yesterday that I quit after making 10 minutes of progress over an hour. Bleh…

Wild Flag Drum Kit

Wild Flag knows how to rock

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