With Good for You
Grand Central, Miami
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Better Than: Seeing Keith Morris sing Rollins-era Black Flag songs.
To expect a performance by the 2013 incarnation of Black Flag to provide the same animalistic, confrontational assault of yore would be to live in a state of blissful ignorance.
Allow us to put a few things on the table: Greg Ginn is going to be 60 years old next year, Ron Reyes is believed to be a born again Christian and is no longer literally living in a glorified closet, and the band's rhythm section first earned their bars only this year.
So while Black Flag's had damn near 20 people involved since the Panic days of Hermosa Beach, to call this a reunion is ridiculous. Also, for those of you just tuning in: Greg Ginn is currently suing his former bandmates for having their own "reunion" tour under the name Flag, and decided to include Henry Rollins in the filing seemingly just for fun. Most punk rock, no?
Despite the aforementioned, the union of Reyes and Ginn yielded 1980's Jealous Again EP, an undeniably important part of the Black Flag canon, and the opportunity to see Greg Ginn -- the undisputed driving creative force behind everything Black Flag has ever done -- perform the band's songs is a rare one that will most likely not present itself again.
As such, a crowd of optimistic fans showed up to Miami's Grand Central on Saturday night to bask in the inimitable feedback of Ginn's guitar and scream along to the songs that, for many, shifted the very concept of what punk rock could be.
The opening set of the evening was provided by Good For You -- also known as Black Flag with Mike Vallely singing. Things kicked off with Ginn slicing through the pre-show soundtrack of Frank Sinatra standards (seriously) with a blast of space fuzz, courtesy of a theremin stationed stage left.
Mike V appeared on stage sporting a mop of blonde hair and a lengthy beard, looking not unlike an extra from Sons of Anarchy -- fitting considering his performance was a pretty direct homage to SOA-featured actor and everyone's favorite former Black Flag frontman, Henry Rollins.
Vallely pointed an accusing finger toward the sky, stared blankly into the bright lights above the stage, and hung about his microphone stand while shouting and talk-singing over a set of songs that sounded like an infinite loop of the middle section of "The Process of Weeding Out." The tracks plodded along at a mid-tempo, lasted for way too long, and were punctuated by Ginn's longwinded guitar and theremin explorations.
Though Mike V -- former bane of security guards everywhere -- may be a formidable force on a skateboard and in a street fight, he left much to be desired as the frontman of a hardcore band. I suppose having Black Flag with a different singer is a really good way around paying for an opening act to come on the tour, though. Good for you indeed, Mr. Ginn.
After the Good For You set had concluded, Ginn was seen mingling with the crowd and taking photos with fans. From what we witnessed and heard, Ginn is extremely kind to his fans and appeared to be genuinely enjoying the interaction. Another squall of theremin noise signaled the start of the Black Flag set and saw the audience turn into a funnel cloud of limbs.
Reyes hit the stage with a sneer and a snarl and kicked into "Revenge." His screams were more intense than anything credited to Chavo on Jealous Again, Ginn's guitars were loud and ominous with the same biting crunch present on the albums, but the tracks were all played at diminished speeds, and despite Reyes' efforts, were performed without the urgency that had made them so palpably furious.
While we did not expect the band to claw out of the box with the same power as three decades ago, we hoped for maybe a little more intensity from a crew claiming to be Black Flag.
The middle portion of the set was the highlight and provided a peak in energy from the crowd as well, which had spent most of the night caught in a revolving door of a circle pit. The tracks from Damaged generated the most excitement, and though it's nearly impossible not to want to do something during "Six Pack," we had a really hard time connecting with anyone other than Rollins singing those particular songs, particularly "Black Coffee," which is more or less Rollins' battle cry to this very day. To further ruin the mood, the band managed to blow the bridge of "TV Party," leaving us pondering how exactly one fucks up the closest thing Black Flag has ever had to a hit?
Even with our low expectations, the show was disappointing. More importantly, the entire concept of Black Flag, or Flag, or any other incarnation of this band reuniting in 2013 is disappointing. As has been pointed out, there is no struggle here, the dissenting essence of what made Black Flag's music such a statement in the first place is no more, and without that to fuel the fire, what makes it necessary?
Personal Bias: Black Flag's music changed my life.
Overheard: "It should say Black Flag with quotes and an asterisk on the screen."
Hopefully: Mike Vallely doesn't find me and harm me.
Black Flag's Setlist:
-"I've Had It"
-"Blood and Ashes"
-"Now Is the Time"
-"It's Not My Time to Go Go"
-"Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie"
-"Wallow in Despair"
-"Down in the Dirt"
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-"Louie Louie" (Richard Berry cover)