by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
Six months after an announcement of the reformation of the band that arguably launched the hardcore punk movement, Black Flag played its first show in Seattle since May 31, 1986 - three weeks before this particular fan was born. The sold-out, all-ages, Friday show at El Corazón featured two bands playing before Black Flag, both consisting of members from the internationally recognized, iconic punk band's current lineup.
Founded in 1976 by Greg Ginn under the name Panic, Black Flag's sound brought a savagery and vigor that punk really hadn't seen before. Its frank anti-authoritarian messages and methods quickly made the band, as well as their fans, 'Black Flaggers,' targets for harassment by the Los Angeles Police Department. Unable to play in most L.A. venues, Black Flag created their own community. By playing in basements, garages, and the like, the band was largely responsible for the underground DIY punk ethic that still exists today all over the world.
During the band's initial 10-year run, many different members came and went, Ginn being the only constant. The current lineup includes Ginn, named one of the top 100 guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone; Ron Reyes, the band's second vocalist (1979-80), who notably quit the band mid-performance, a stunt Ginn has apparently finally forgiven him for; new member Gregory Moore on drums, who's worked with Ginn for many years in the three-piece instrumental punk band Gone; and new member Dave Klein on bass, formerly of Screeching Weasel.
It's not often a contemporary punk show will bring out some of the original '70s and '80s scenesters. Much of this older crowd, which appeared more than able to pass for typical 'Seattle yuppie' by day, donned original merch that would make any younger fan drool - some even sported the signature stylized bar tattoo that has since become a recognizable image well outside of the hardcore community. It was somewhat affecting to see that some of the once-rebellious of the generation that preceded my own haven't forgotten their roots, though more than one looked somehow off in ragged '80s punk tee accompanied by Tom Ford eyewear.
Opening the show with a 30-minute set was Piggy, a Vancouver, B.C.-based punk ensemble featuring Reyes on guitar. With some clear pop influences, the band touts themselves as 'Raw power & all over the rock and roll map. Actually, there is no map, no three-year plan, and no exit strategy.' Despite the excitement of seeing Reyes onstage, it appeared hard for most to get into the set, likely because of anticipation - the knowledge that as soon as they went offstage, they'd see Greg Ginn.
GOOD FOR YOU
Ginn's new band, Good For You, took the stage at 9:30. At one year shy of 60, he's as dynamic on the guitar as ever, and he's got a theremin to boot. Renaissance man Mike Vallely lends his voice to the band. Vallely, a professional athlete who originally distinguished himself skateboarding, is also a professional wrestler, hockey player, boxer, actor, and stuntman. Save Vallely, the four-piece consists of three members of the Black Flag lineup and, from the degree to which they all improvise, it's evident they're showing off what they can do outside of Black Flag's revival.
Good For You is characterized primarily by heaving guitars, frantic and improvised at times; gritty, angsty lyrics composed by Ginn and Vallely; and mid-tempo power drumming, played by Moore for the duration of the tour as they've yet to find a stable drummer.
Good For You/Black Flag bassist Klein, the youngest member of either band, seemed to have no trouble keeping up - he's extremely skilled. Much like Black Flag's second studio album, My War (1984), Good For You's debut album, Life Is Too Short to Not Hold a Grudge, released earlier this year, features 'Dale Nixon' on bass. 'Dale Nixon' is Ginn's longtime pseudonym. As capable as Ginn may be, after a four-minute Klein bass solo I'm left thinking it's a shame they didn't scout him before they made the record.
Despite the fact that everyone was there to see Black Flag, and three of the four members were onstage not playing the songs fans came for, the set was still outstanding in its own right. By their second number, they had a pit going and it lasted for most of the rest of the set. I wouldn't have expected any less from Ginn.
As the set went on and the mosh pit heated the venue, Vallely, an understandably intense fellow given his professional background, seemed to be perspiring far more than any mortal man should be capable. Sweat flew from him as he moved around the stage, making neon from gelled stage lights before disappearing toward the floor. After 70 minutes they finished at 10:40. I was already pretty blown away and I'd still yet to see Black Flag.
Band reformations after long periods of time are understandably polarizing among fans. Black Flag is no exception, but inside El Corazón no such disunity was apparent. Crust punks, Queer punks, skate punks, skinheads (punk movement predating the neo-Nazi appropriation of the style), Gay punks, Black Flaggers (of course), hooligans, Misfits - punks of every variety, from every gritty corner of punk subculture began chanting the name of the iconic hardcore band in unison as they prepared to take the stage. When Black Flag began at 11:10, the pit re-formed immediately and didn't stop until the show was over.
They began with a several minute jam session, then proceeded to play 'Revenge,' 'I've Had It,' 'Nervous Breakdown,' 'Fix Me,' 'The Chase' (new), 'Blood and Ashes' (new), 'Depression,' 'No Values,' 'Now Is the Time' (new), 'Six Pack,' 'TV Party' (updated with modern references), 'It's Not My Time to Go Go' (new), 'I'm Sick' (new), 'Black Coffee,' 'Gimme Gimme Gimme' (with a hell of a solo by Moore), 'Police Story,' 'Wallow in Despair' (new), 'Down in the Dirt' (new), 'Can't Decide' (a near-10 minute version), 'Rise Above,' 'Jealous Again,' and 'Louie, Louie.'
Virtually every song was done in either rapid succession or broken by a solo. Ginn's guitar seemed to never stop. Nearly everyone in the venue echoed the classic songs, often being prompted to do so by Reyes. By 'Depression,' security were puncturing water bottles and spraying them into the crowd to keep people cool.
Reyes' voice doesn't have the simple shouting quality it used to. His voice is more modern, but not quite contemporary; it's deep, but not overly guttural. His attitude, or the way he presents himself as a front man, likewise seems updated. At moments he's reminiscent of Henry Rollins, Black Flag's fourth vocalist and the best-known member of the band overall.
Moore, who has said he prefers to play barefoot in order to feel the vibrations of the stage, had his moments and certainly seems to have a stage connection with Ginn. Klein is a tremendously surprising talent, however. Even Ginn acknowledged his solo time during 'Down in the Dirt,' as most of the venue cheered for him. Klein may very well do justice to standout bassist Kira Roessler, who played with the band from 1983 to '85.
Naturally, Ginn was a sight to be seen. Many say that the band's early problems finding a reliable bass player contributed to the development of his distinctive sound. At times his play style is overtly technical, while at others it's completely unrehearsed and erratic. Ginn played two 70-minute sets, sold out a venue with a capacity of 700, sent most concertgoers home drenched in sweat from head to toe, and sent a very clear message to Seattle that Black Flag has returned.
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!