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Thursday, July 24, 2014 12:01 am

Wave the flag

Black Flag plays Homespun

Despite a revolving door of members, Black Flag still has it going on after all these years.
PHOTO BY RICHIE FALZONE

 

After nearly 40 years, Black Flag is still a whole lot of fun.

With just one original member, the legendary hardcore punk band from California is, in at least one respect, a shadow of its former self. But what a self it is. With Greg Ginn, the band’s mastermind, guitarist and songwriter still firmly in control, still shouting lyrics as he plays, despite having no microphone, a 90-minute set at Donnie’s Homespun on Saturday night was a treat.

There has been no shortage of intrigue, controversy and drama on this tour that began last year. In October, Ginn lost a trademark infringement lawsuit against former bandmates who are touring under the name Flag. One month later, Ron Reyes, the band’s singer, was fired in mid-performance during a show in Australia and was replaced by Mike Vallely, a pro skateboarder who had been the band’s manager – he is Black Flag’s fifth lead singer since the band was formed in 1976. Drummer Brandon Pertzborn and bassist Tyler Smith joined just this year.

You wouldn’t know this band is a put-together affair from Saturday’s performance. They played tight, with Pertzborn in particular performing as if there was a chip on his shoulder. Critics of this most recent incarnation of Black Flag – it’s not the same as back in the day, their 2013 record What The… sucks – would do well to shut up and listen. Of course Black Flag doesn’t sound the same as a half-dozen drummers ago, when Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan occupied the White House. So what? Good is good, and this band, regardless of personnel changes and the trainwrecks of 2013, is very good.

The 21-song setlist on Saturday included no songs from What The…, the band’s ninth album. Black Flag has a reputation for relentless rehearsal, and the repertoire, with so many sudden starts and stops and tempo changes, demands a level of musicianship significantly above an angry young man’s garage band. Perhaps the newest members have not had sufficient time to fully absorb and rehearse the newer material.

There was plenty of slam dancing in a mosh pit that included fans of all ages, including a man who appeared 50-ish who jumped on stage early in the show and slammed himself between between the performers like a human pinball before he was dragged off by security. It was quaint, really, compared with the near riots and heavy police presence at Black Flag shows during the 1980s.

This is not to say that Black Flag should be considered a nostalgia act. The group has always been a thinking man’s band, and that proved true during Saturday’s show. Once included on Rolling Stone’s evolving list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time (he was 99th in the 2003 incarnation, absent entirely from the 2011 version that included such alleged stalwarts as Andy Summers and Paul Simon), Ginn at 60 can more than keep up with bandmates young enough to be his sons, maybe even grandsons.

By late in the show, the slam dancing had slowed, even among young’ns not yet old enough to buy alcohol. The performance was good enough that you wanted to stand still and just watch these guys deliver ear candy. Ginn switched instruments with Smith for “Louie Louie,” the closing number, and the young man acquitted himself well on guitar, better than the band’s leader did on bass.

Opening band Cinema Cinema showed that two cousins from Brooklyn, plus a healthy dose of reverb, are more than enough to keep a crowd entertained. The two-piece band, featuring Ev Gold on guitar, who was very good at snarling, and Paul Claro on drums, who was equally good at smiling, produced a wall of most-pleasant industrial punk noise.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.




Setlist

  • Rise Above
  • Six Pack
  • I’ve Had It
  • Fix Me
  • No Values
  • Annihilate This Week
  • Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie
  • Depression
  • Damaged II
  • Black Coffee
  • I’d Rather Die
  • Jealous Again
  • Nervous Breakdown
  • Police Story
  • Can’t Decide
  • Beat My Head Against The Wall
  • Slip It In
  • TV Party
  • Fucked Up
  • Revenge
  • Louie Louie

 

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