• Black Flag Live At The Warsaw, Brooklyn, New York, June 14, 2013.

    Black Flag Live At The Warsaw, Brooklyn, New York, June 14, 2013.

    Black Flag, or at least the 2013 incarnation of Black Flag, played their first New York City performance in over a quarter century on June 14, 2013 as part of this year’s Northside Fest shenanigans. With founding member Greg Ginn on guitar and second Black Flag vocalist Ron Reyes in the lineup there’s some legitimacy to this that makes it more than just a cash in, but having now had time to digest what happened last night, well… mixed. That’s the right word. Mixed. Joining Ginn and Reyes in the band are Gregory Moore on drums and former Screeching Weasel bass player Dave Klein.

    So yeah, the doors opened at 7pm at Brooklyn’s Warsaw (“where perogies meet punk” – I shit you not, that’s what it says on their promotional material), an actually fairly nice venue right around where Greenpoint and Williamsburg eventually collide in a colossal clusterfuck of genuinely cool stuff and irritating hipster culture nonsense. Let’s not blame the venue for that though. Greenpoint is a heavily Polish neighborhood, so it makes sense that they’d serve perogies and kielbasa and that they’d serve Zywciek by the bucketload to thirsty patrons. It’s a cool place, well kept, fun to wander around, plenty spacious. The problem is that the acoustics are never great. Having been to a couple of shows there, it’s odd that the sound guys insist on cranking up the volume to ear shattering levels in a room that is essentially a box that wasn’t really ever designed to handle that type of thing.

    The Netherlands opened. We missed them. After that Ginn’s latest effort, Good For You, came out. Their singer is a long haired guy who looks like Jesus and sounds like Henry Rollins. A lot of people have compared this stuff to Rollins’ era Black Flag, the similarities are there. They weren’t bad. I don’t know that minds were blown, but they weren’t bad. Greg Ginn seems to be really into theramins though. No… really. The Men came out next, and we went to the bar, because beer. Or vodka and cranberry. Pick your poison. The Men had energy though, lots of it. They sounded okay and put on a good show.

    Black Flag came out at about 10:45, that’d be three hours and forty five minutes after doors opened for those keeping score. At least everybody except Reyes did. Ginn’s guitar lit up, the sound got cranked and turned to fucking mud, and the bass and drum kicked in. It was obvious pretty much instantly that this new rhythm section, despite not having any direct lineage to the Black Flag of yore, are taking this seriously. Klein is rock solid on bass and Moore is a beast behind the drum kit. After a few minutes of weird jazz fusion sludge improvisation jam kookiness, Reyes came out and took center stage. The band kicked into their set, and security promptly overreacted.

    Note: If you’re going to book Black Flag at your venue and plaster it with ‘no stage diving’ and ‘no slam dancing’ signs, expect loads of people trying to stage dive and slam dance. Because you hate us, we hate you. Deal with it. And the bouncers at the venue did, by sending the biggest guy they could find into the middle of the goddamn stage to promptly toss anyone who even came close to going over the barrier. And as this bad ass bouncer kicked the shit out of kids who tried to dance, Klein noticed and shoved him a bit. Meathead's response? To motion to Klein, as he was playing, to 'bring it.' Seriously. Thankfully someone wearing a blazer over top of what looked like a Bad Brains shirt motioned from the side of the stage to get Jabba off the stage (he'd moved on to standing on top of the speaker stacks at this point), at which point security relaxed a little bit. Reyes, sensing the fact that the crowd was picking up on the idiocy of all of this, said ‘We just don’t want anyone to get hurt, that’s all.’ He probably meant it.

    And that’s part of the problem with having Reyes on vocals. First things first and credit where it’s due, he sounds good. Great at times. He’s still got the pipes and he still sounds very angry. But there’s no sense of menace at this point in his career. It’s not got anything to do with the fact that he’s put on some weight and gotten older like the rest of us or anything to do with his having found religion – it’s just that he seems like a genuinely nice guy. Seriously, if Ron were hanging out at your place he’d probably help you do the dishes or offer to walk your dog because he’d know you had just had a hard day at work. He’s very likable. But do you want the guy singing for Black Flag to come across as nice? Maybe not so much.

    Putting aside the lame security and seriously shitty sound mix that for whatever reason intentionally BURIED Ginn’s guitar sound in a sea of low end mud, there’s the aforementioned theramin. Now, theramin’s are great when you’re scoring The Day The Earth Stood Still but if you’re Black Flag and you’re doing a live version of your new single, Down In The Dirt, it stands to reason that you don’t extend the song with a masturbatory guitar solo that goes on way too long and then prolong that egotistical move with a theramin solo. Greg Ginn never got that memo though, because that’s exactly what he did, while Reyes seemingly improvised some weird screaming rants about being down. In the dirt. Down in the dirt. Get it? They’re down in the dirt. And they want you to know it by dragging out that song to a good seven minutes or so.

    If it sounds like the show sucked, that’s not the case. The band is tight as tight can be and even if there seems to be a glaring lack of camaraderie between the band members (each one is playing really, really well, but they’re playing with each other, not off of each other) there’s no denying that each one of these guys truly IS giving 100%. When they did Gimme Gimme Gimme or Jealous Again or Nervous Breakdown or Police Story, the crowd responded with impressive enthusiasm and, if like myself, you grew up listening to Black Flag, you had to smile at least a little bit. Yeah, tickets were more than $40 after service charge and yeah this was a big venue with a shitty staff but man… that’s Black Flag. Sort of. Those songs still matter, they still continue to inspire and they still make you want to punch a cop and spray paint the walls and then go back to your crappy little overpriced apartment and watch TV before having a couple of brews. The music does still matter, it still 'speaks' and on that level this incarnation does still deliver. Call it a cash in, call it fake punk rock, call it whatever you want but there was sincere energy and dedication visible from all four members of the band on stage last night, even if it went in four different directions. Some of it might have been misguided and some of it might have been just flat out dumb (theramin) but it was there and it was occasionally infectious. If the element of ‘danger’ is gone, well, so is the time and place for that. In a day and age where you can ‘go down to the mall and get your little pussy pierced’ (ha! SxDx plays the same venue next weekend) this is how it goes.

    Oh, and these pictures suck because the promoter was too fucking lazy to answer a simple email requesting a camera pass. So this is what you get, but hey, youtube clips. Neat.

    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Best review ever.No slamdancing at a Black Flag show. Snicker.
    1. paul h.'s Avatar
      paul h. -
      Hmm. Similar issues with the muddy sound and lazy management (media passes) happened here in Austin. I didn't go. Too expensive and nowhere to park. Still would like to see them though. Nice review.
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -
      No sleeping either. Not allowed. "You're welcome for finding you money, guy." Vacant looks at each other like "What's going on?" means it's a good time to leave. "See ya later, Leonard Maltin."

      That probably doesn't make sense to anyone but pretty much sums up the evening.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Sounds like it maybe wasn't such a great time.
    1. Nolando's Avatar
      Nolando -
      Good to know that Ginn is still an asshole, now able to alienating/annoy/turn off a whole new crowd of people in this century.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nolando View Post
      Good to know that Ginn is still an asshole, now able to alienating/annoy/turn off a whole new crowd of people in this century.
      ...utilizing a musical instrument from the last century.