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Black Flag | July 23, 2013

Black Flag

Black Flag is a band that means a lot of things to a lot of people. They cast the mold for L.A. hardcore punk rock, became the bane of the LAPD (and vice versa) and went through a multitude of line-up changes before disbanding in 1986. Fast forward to 2013 and we find ourselves with not one, but two bands aiming to shake the dust off some classic tunes and give the Black Flag fan base (which is likely an order of magnitude greater than when they disbanded) a chance to hear these tunes for the first time played by some of the guys that wrote them.  Already confused? Let me break it down for you …

FLAG Members

  • Keith Morris (vocals): Founding member of Black Flag and vocalist on their debut, the “Nervous Breakdown” EP. Keith went on to form Circle Jerks and currently sings in OFF!
  • Chuck Dukowski (bass): Founding member of Black Flag and credited on all studio releases through “My War.”
  • Bill Stevenson (drums): Bill played drums on more studio releases than any other Black Flag drummer.
  • Dez Cadena (guitar/vocals): Third singer for Black Flag and rythm guitar. Ironically, Dez passed the mic to Henry Rollins because he didn’t want to do vocals yet is singing a half dozen songs with FLAG.
  • Stephen Eggerton (guitar): Best known for his guitar work in the Descendents and ALL, Stephen is the only FLAG member who never played in Black Flag. He gets bonus points for bringing out the clear plexi Ampeg Dan Armstrong which was a staple of Ginn’s Black Flag days.

Black Flag Members

  • Ron Reyes (vocals): The second singer for Black Flag, Ron sang on the “Jealous Again” EP. Apparently he and Ginn have buried the hatchet after he was credited as “Chavo Pederast” on the release.
  • Greg Ginn (guitar/theremin): Founding member of Black Flag and the only continuous member throughout the band’s history.  In case you were wondering, he is now playing something called a “Blackknife” that looked like a Fender Strat.
  • Dave Klein (bass):  Dave also plays bass in Good For You, Ginn’s other band with Mike Vallely (vocals).
  • Gregory Moore (drums):  Gregory played drums at Ginn’s 2003 Black Flag reunion.

Got it? Good.

The thing about Black Flag back when they were originally active is that the line-up was always changing. Often times you wouldn’t know there was a new band member until you bought a record or showed up at a gig to find yourself wondering, “who is that guy?!?” Heck, the first four releases each had a different singer! Sure, we all had our favorite line-ups and albums but Black Flag was never about a specific person or persons … Black Flag was always bigger than that.

So when Black Flag (official) rolled through town I was torn.  Having had the opportunity to watch FLAG absolutely destroy the stage on more than one occasion, I didn’t want to taint that image of one of my favorite band’s legacy, especially after hearing about Ginn’s ill-fated 2003 reunion.  I  (obviously) went anyways … in part due to curiosity, partly because I wanted to see Ron Reyes sing for the first time and partly because  it’s Greg mother-f’ing Ginn on guitar!   Here’s my take …

Ron absolutely killed it; tons  of aggressive energy on stage of the sort that is required for any singer of Black Flag songs.  I love his snotty drawl and the way he delivers the lyrics and hearing him sing the songs off of the Jealous Again EP was truly great.  He even did a great job on the My War-era songs though I must profess a preference for Rollins when it comes to Can’t Decide.

Gregg Ginn … hair a little shorter and a little greyer … was Greg Ginn.  I don’t know how else to say it.   He’s always had a penchant for the eclectic solo that he delivers in his own style, particularly during the later years of Black Flag (anyone remember Gone?).  This night was no different, he gyrated and flailed as I remembered him doing 25+ years ago.  And while some people may have raised an eyebrow or two at the use of a theremin, I didn’t mind a bit.  Frankly it’s a sound that meshes well with his guitar style and didn’t detract in any way from the material.

As for the rest of the band … Moore is a charismatic and energetic drummer but few can keep up with the might of Bill Stevenson.  Klein … well … someone needs to remind him that he’s in a punk rock band called Black Flag and not some shoe-gaze indie act.

Interestingly both Black Flag and FLAG steered the setlist away from any of the original material that came after My War.  The big difference however, was that Black Flag made space for a handful of new (unreleased) Black Flag songs.  It’s always hard to render a view on new material after hearing it only once live, but I can say that,  a) the first new tune that they played (The Chase) sounded great and worked well in the set, and b) some of the new songs sounded like they would have fit better with Ginn’s other project, Good For You.  You can compare full setlists from FLAG and Black Flag below the photo gallery.

The bottom line:  Black Flag has always been a lightning rod and people have always debated their favorites.  With two bands out to do the music justice, there is no doubt that the debate will continue.

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Setlists

FLAG (5/27) Black Flag (7/23)
Revenge Revenge
Fix me I've Had It
Police Story Nervous Breakdown
I Don't Care Fix me
Depression The Chase*
I've Had It Blood and Ashes*
No Values Depression
My War No Values
No More Now Is The Time*
Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie Six Pack
White Minority TV Party
Jealous Again It's Not My Time To Go Go*
Wasted I'm Sick*
Clocked In Black Coffee
Nervous Breakdown Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie
American Waste Police Story
Thirsty and Miserable Wallow In Despair*
Padded Cell Down In The Dirt*
Spray Paint The Walls Can't Decide
Six Pack Rise Above
Rise Above Jealous Again
Louie Louie Louie Louie
I Love You (Encore)
Damaged II (Encore)

* New Black Flag songs, currently unreleased.

© 2013 Alan Snodgrass | www.digitaldiversion.net. Please do not use without express permission. If you like what you see, leave a comment below and subscribe so you can be notified of new posts. You can also become a fan on Facebook.

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