Last night, Greg Ginn’s incarnation of Black Flag entertained around 700 diehard (and curious) punk veterans at Austin’s compact DIY music and arts venue, Infest. Save for a brief 2003 reunion, this would be the outfit’s first proper U.S. performance since, maybe, 1986, which of course resulted in combative moshing, spirited chants, and a whiplash of sweat and angst.
Earlier footage of the European shows hadn’t been promising. One particular clip of “Rise Above” from a mid-month Milan engagement reveals a stoic crowd and a bored rhythm section. What changed for Austin? Maybe it was the vanity of trotting out his Taylor, TX-based, semi-stoner blues side project Good For You to open, but Ginn was visibly gleeful approaching his guitar parts like a hero. Also, the on-stage Theremin was punk as fuck.
Long lost singer Ron Reyes—with his shoulder length hair, long-sleeve black t-shirt, and maybe 5’5’’ frame—stomped like a stockier Paul Rudd when the actor plays drunk. Stand in bassist Dave Klein, a thirty-something journeyman who joined the band earlier this year, warded off unwelcome skankers using his instrument like a bo staff, which assisted in a pair of ejections. Donning noise cancellation headphones, drummer Gregory Moore–five albums-worth of Ginn collaborations in post-Flag act Gone under his belt–played shirtless and manic.
Banter was minimal, and the first crowd interaction stemmed from the following two Reyes observations: “This fucking sucks,” and just before stomping into “Depression” a song later, “Are we gonna do another one?” The corpus spoke for itself, I guess.
Over an hour and some change, Black Flag played a noisy, 22-song set that featured a batch of thick new cuts, in addition to a generous helping of golden era standards from their early EPs (1978’s Nervous Breakdown and 1980’s Jealous Again, respectively) and even their Henry Rollins-led 1981 debut, Damaged. It was all logical data to mine, especially since Reyes’ original tenure with Black Flag ended around 1980.
Though, the fact that “Police Story” and “Six Pack” wormed their way into the set was a minor miracle. In the past, Ginn has been especially outspoken about his disdain for nostalgic revivalism. However, his feelings must have changed — perhaps a spot on Rolling Stone‘s Top 100 Guitarists list had something to do with it? — since Ginn took some long-form creative license to punk reissues like “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie” and “Jealous Again”, adding a volley of shredding solos that felt vital.
Proceedings went off sans mention of Keith Morris’ FLAG, the dueling version of Black Flag currently on tour. The timing of it all has sparked a war of words between Flag camps; in fact, Ginn’s official Black Flag website calls prominent, home page attention to the “fake Flag band currently covering the songs of BLACK FLAG” in “embarrassingly weak ‘mailing it in’ fashion.”
This passive aggressive butting of heads shouldn’t surprise anyone; after all, Ginn could be seen as the Tyler, the Creator of the Black Flag brand, overlooking a checklist of 18 ex-members, the likes of which include iconic vocalist and Def Jam: Vendetta life coach, Henry Rollins, who has actually remained above the fray. So, yeah, the only fair thing to do, really, is to host a seeded, four-team battle of the bands, preferably in a suburban high school gymnasium.
That’s not likely, so what it comes down to is their shows. Comparing apples and less influential oranges, Thursday’s Black Flag reunion sticks out because like punk does when it works best, the crowd made it all move. I caught Refused’s shortly lived reunion at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD last summer, and they coaxed equal levels of energy but with a much bigger light show. On the other hand, Bad Brains lacked the catalog to garner much more than a sympathy fist pump at 2008’s at Fun Fun Fun Fest.
With Ginn’s outfit, a balding man with a salt and pepper soul patch walked on teenagers. A big kid was crunched against the stage wielding a doomed, freshly purchased vinyl recording—singing 70 percent of the words like a Shaker. The pinball jerks that overdo it were fished out and shown the door. One particularly enthusiastic staffer in a Phillies hat left his post at the door twice to stage dive.
If you’re reading this as a music fan that enjoys legacy sets because they’re notches on a belt, think of how unsatisfying they can be. In a week where I was lucky enough to see Paul McCartney play just shy of 20 Beatles songs at the Erwin Center, Black Flag’s tightly woven assault is almost just as memorable.
It’s hard not to think about John Roderick’s “Punk Rock is Bullshit” think piece from March. It made some compelling arguments about the unattainability of the genre’s puritan work ethic and the lingering negative effects on folks as they grow up mindful of maintaining its aesthetic. But it’s ultimately wrong, if for no other reason than this: I stood stage left for most of the show next to a blind man and his cane. And as soon as “TV Party” kicked in, the guy rose his can of Lone Star and just exploded like it was his last days on Earth.
What do you call that?
I’ve Had It
Blood and Ashes
Now is the Time
It’s Not My Time to Go Go
Gimme Gimmie Gimmie
Wallow in Despair
Down in the Dirt