Black Flag are playing in town this weekend. Or are they?
What does Black Flag mean to you?
Your answer may influence how excited you should get about the Black Flag concert happening this Saturday at Donnie’s Homespun.
To characterize this band’s membership policy as a “revolving door” is to risk understatement. Black Flag released its incendiary debut, the Nervous Breakdown EP, in 1978, thereby launching trailblazing independent record label SST and arguably the U.S. hardcore punk scene itself. The only performer on that recording also in the current touring lineup of the band is guitarist, songwriter (and SST owner) Greg Ginn.
In fact, between the departure of founding vocalist Keith Morris (later of the Circle Jerks) and the band’s breakup in 1986, there were 16 total members of Black Flag, including three more lead vocalists, six drummers, and three bass players, with Ginn the only constant.
When many people think of Black Flag, though, they understandably picture the charismatic, heavily tattooed Henry Rollins, the band’s vocalist during their most productive and high profile period, from 1981 through 1986. Rollins has gone on to persistent if middling fame as a solo musician, spoken word performer, actor, talk show host, blogger and commercial pitchman. He did a spoken show at the Hoogland Center in 2012, and is most assuredly not in the current touring version of Black Flag.
Henry is in good (non) company: For 17 years starting in 1986, nobody was in Black Flag at all. A brief reunion in 2003 found Ginn rejoining forces with post-Morris, pre-Rollins vocalist (and guitarist) Dez Cadena back on the mic, along with short-term ‘80s bass player C’el Revuelta back in the fold for some live dates but no recordings. After that, another ten Black Flag-less years passed.
In 2013, Ginn convened yet another version of the band, with a new bass player and drummer and Ron Reyes, yet another former Black Flag vocalist who had preceded Rollins. That lineup actually released a new CD last year (What The?) after which Ginn kicked Reyes and the rhythm section out, replacing them with three new guys, including singer Mike Valelly, a professional skateboarder who was all of six years old when Black Flag first formed.
Please note: This is the “Black Flag” that will be performing at Donnie’s on Saturday.*
All of which is not meant to poo-poo Saturday's show. Word on the street is that this lineup of Black Flag has been doing some great gigs and the argument can certainly be made that Ginn owns the name and the songs, and his guitar sound has been the band’s most salient element for over 30 years. Effectively, Black Flag is anything he says it is.
Regardless: Caveat Punktor (Mosher Beware).
A review of the concert will run in the Illinois Times next week.
*I won’t even mention the mutinous combo working under the name Flag (oops, I just did), a group composed of disgruntled (also Rollins-less) ex-Black Flag members, who toured until they were recently successfully sued by Ginn to both cease and desist.
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