So what’s the most shocking aspect of Black Flag’s sudden reunion album, the appropriately titled What The…? The simple fact it exists after two decades of minimal stirring? The shiteous cover art that I think we all want to believe is awful on purpose? My vote goes to the astounding truth that the music within sounds like it’s being played by the real Black Flag, the tank-like ’80s outfit we all hoped would magically appear at our high school and start a police riot with their unique brand of disturbed, violent punk rock.
Not only is What The… better than it has any right to be twenty-eight years after the fact, it comes offensively close to being great in various pockets. Raw, nutty, heavy—these guys roll over the gate like they’ve been locked in a storage closet since In My Head. Founding guitarist Greg Ginn can still warp your mind with his playing, be it with gobs of gluey riffage or pointedly fractured soloing (Ginn also handled the gut-slapping bass lines that lay the foundation for What The…). Similarly, returning Flag singer Ron Reyes can still summon up that angry wayward teen who splattered his vocals across several of the band’s early lynchpin releases.
Unfortunately (you knew that was coming), What The… dampens its fire by handing out too much of a good thing. Forgetting that brevity is the soul of punk, Ginn and Reyes force us through twenty-two angry noodles when an offering a third that length could have comprised one of this year’s more invigorating EPs. It’s never a good sign when the listener needs to take a lunch break midway through an album. It’s even worse when the listener wants to. The contents of your refrigerator are sure to excite on a James Bond level once you’ve been confronted with the malaise that hangs over backend What The… cuts like “Lies” and “Give Me All Your Dough.”
As of this writing, Reyes is already out of the reformed Flag, having been ousted in favor of professional skateboarder Mike Vallely (who can also sing, apparently). Based on the meandering, circular nature of What The…, Black Flag doesn’t need a new singer so much as they need an editor. Of course, this is the band (the punk rock band) that released four albums in one year during their heyday, so I guess in a certain light we were spared the true onslaught. Twenty-two songs—can you imagine how much shit might be cluttering the cutting room floor?
FINAL SCORE: Two pastrami sandwiches on honey wheat (out of four).
If I’m reading the latest in the Black Flag lawsuit kerfuffle correctly, Greg Ginn and his label SST Records do not own any copyright on Black Flag or its related trademarks, Henry Rollins and Keith Morris might own some kind of copyright, Greg Ginn never quit Black Flag despite not performing with or as that band between 1986 and 2013 (save the one-off charity concert he played in 2003 with the robot bass player)*, and Henry Rollins also never quit Black Flag because he literally never said in writing or verbally “I quit.”
If this donnybrook goes to court (which “they” say is unlikely at this point) I hope it yields a diagram or chart outlining each member of Black Flag and whether or not they ever quit. Maybe everybody’s still in Black Flag! You hear that, Emil Johnson? YOU MAY ALREADY BE A MEMBER STILL.
Interesting to see the judge note “no likelihood” of consumer confusion between Black Flag and FLAG. I’m very confused whenever my friends talk about these bands because they all have a habit of calling the latter “Black Flag.” I think this stems from the fact eighty guys from Black Flag are in FLAG. Thus I am always forced to ask, “Are you talking about Black Flag featuring Greg Ginn and Ron Reyes or are you talking about FLAG, all caps, featuring Keith Morris and all those other rockin’ dude-meisters?”
Of course, consumer confusion is a moot point since Joe Law has decided Greg Ginn doesn’t own the trademarks. Kinda seems like nobody owns ’em right now. So don’t worry, guy who is currently Photoshopping the four bars logo into a handful of tampons captioned “KOTEX FLAG”—nobody from the band is gonna sue you. At least not today.
* – I am acutely aware Henry Rollins ends his Black Flag tour diary Get In The Van with an entry recounting a phone call between Ginn and himself during which Ginn quit the band; although Ginn’s never challenged this story he’s also never confirmed it as 100% truth (as far as I know). Not that I’m taking his side. Motherfucker tried to reunite Black Flag with a robot.
A: There ain’t much to say. A legal dance was inevitable the minute these dueling reunion factions rose up. I’m sure Greg Ginn truly believes he owns the exclusive rights to the word “flag.” I’m sure Keith Morris et al purposely named their reunion thing FLAG just to drive needles into Greg Ginn. I’m sure everyone involved realizes the Black Flag of 1981 would settle all this with a fistfight in a 7-11 parking lot. I’m sure the Ramones should have taught a correspondence course before they died called “How To Be In A Band With People You Hate And Make Money And Also Hang On To That Money Because This Shit Called Illegal Downloading Is Coming And VH-1 Is Eventually Gonna Run Out Of Specials To Put You On.”
Was gonna put a BF logo parody here, but this image is more apropos.
[Flag, the more name-heavy of the Black Flag reunions, treating Moose Lodge 1873 in Redondo Beach, CA to a secret show, 4/19/13]
– thank you, Chuck Dukowski, for bringing a splash of color to this shindig
– I’m surprised the band didn’t institute a “no cell phone” rule to prevent the tangled mess of arms rising up from the crowd; on the other hand, when’s the next time most of Black Flag’s gonna be at your local moose lodge?
– feel like maybe they hung those antlers up for effect
– in a surprise to no one, this reunion performs with a degree of excellence, probably because no robots in sombreros are involved
– the person recording this made some weird cuts, such as editing down the tension-fraught bass / drum opening of “No More” (WHICH IS KIND OF THE WHOLE POINT OF THAT SONG BUT W/E)
– Egerton nails Greg Ginn’s guitar tone; again, not a surprise as he seems like something of a Ginn disciple, but still, I didn’t assume he’d be this on target
– this has no relevance to anything but I met Egerton after an ALL show in 1997 and he was really nice
– Flag hits it out of the park on “My War”
– am I on drugs or does the band look “professionally lit?”
– “My kids are out there!” Chuck says at one point in reference to the crowd, seemingly amused that his children even exist
– I think “White Minority” has always kinda spoken for itself and doesn’t necessarily need further defense, yet Keith offers one any way (something about his grandma sexing Native Americans)
– when Dez Cadena takes over on vox for a few songs his stage patter makes him seem like a “down to Earth bro” I’d “like to have a beer with” (I’m actually being sincere)
– Dez gets a little Vegasy in “Thirsty & Miserable” and I ain’t mad at that!
– closing with “Louie Louie” hit this brother hard in the heart for some reason, maybe because that seems like a true Black Flag move, in the true spirit of the orig band
– DUDE NO “TV PARTY” WHAT THE FUCK THAT’S A “FALSE FLAG” IF I EVER HEARD IT LOL LOL LOL
Euro friends: you too will soon have the opportunity to see each version of the reunited Black Flag as both factions are scheduled to invade your shores this spring. Greg Ginn’s “Black Flag” featuring Ron Reyes and Dale Nixon is booked for the Ruhrpott Rodeo on 5/18 in Hünxe, Germany; Keith Morris and Chuck Dukowski’s “Flag” featuring Bill Stevenson and a Descendent will be appearing twice at Deutschland’s Monster Bash Festival (4/26 in Munich, 4/27 in Berlin) and once at Belgium’s Groezrock Festival (4/28 in the scenic municipality of Meerhout). What’s next, showdowns in Canada, Japan, and the Falkland Islands?
Now, the $64,000 question: which Black Flag would I see if someone put a gun to my head? I’d be inclined to choose the Ginn / Reyes situation only because I’ve never seen either of those guys in concert. What if by some miracle they blow the doors of the place? Also, the possibility of viewing a robot bass player in a sombrero excites me. Keith Morris, Bill Stevenson, and S. Egerton are all really talented and fun but I’ve seen them loads of times performing with other bands, and I get the distinct feeling their “Flag” performances won’t have the same element of surprise or danger (read: a robot bass player in a sombrero malfunctioning).
In a related story, I’ve come up with a few more great titles for the new “Black Flag” album Ginn and co. are finishing. Hey Greg and Ron, feel free to swipe any of the following: Jealous Again (Again); Oh, That’s Who Had The 10½, Thanks For Letting Us Know; The Process Of Smoking Tons Of Weed & Deciding This Is A Good Idea; Slip It In Again But Not Too Far (I’ve Got Work In The Morning); My War 2: Fight For Your Right To Artie Lange.
This question courtesy of my own nagging subconscious.
As a teenager / young adult who clung to Everything Went Black like it was the Rosetta Stone, I never imagined the powerful, no nonsense unit that called itself Black Flag would ever exist as two separate factions on the punk rock reunion circuit a la Ratt or Steppenwolf. Yet here we are, staring down a festival season where “Flag” (founding members Keith Morris and Chuck Dukowski plus drummer Bill Stevenson plus Stephen Egerton from the Descendents) will perform at a Las Vegas bowling party in May while “Black Flag” (founding guitarist Greg Ginn plus second BF singer Ron Reyes plus nobody knows yet) is set to play the U.K.’s Hevy Fest in August. The sad part is this is not the first time this has happened.
In 2002 Henry Rollins (BF singer #4) assembled the benefit album Rise Above to help raise funds for the West Memphis Three, and it was a big deal in part because several former Flaggers—Morris, Dukowski, mid-period bassist Kira Roessler—agreed to participate. Noticeably absent was Greg Ginn; It’s unclear (at least from preliminary Google searches) if Hank reached out to him for the album, but I’d be surprised if he did considering the well-documented glacier that formed between the pair following Black Flag’s 1986 disbanding. What can be confirmed is Ginn’s lack of immunity to the nostalgia bug. The guitarist also had his own charity to champion. Thus, in 2003 Greg Ginn reformed his version of Black Flag, with a robot, for a one-time concert to benefit wayward cats. It didn’t go so well.
These previous situations both benefitted worthy causes, so it was hard to be very angry at what was going on generally. Now, however, it looks like a different ball game. I don’t fault these guys for doing their separate things with the members they still get along with because, hey, we all like to have fun and get paid if we can, but as a fan it’s just the worst. I want to believe Black Flag was at some point a sacred order, the one thing upon which all its varied members could agree—let’s do the band this way or not do it all—and that maybe one day in the near future they’ll go back to this mindset. Of course, I suppose you want to believe that about every musical group you see. The hard truth is none of these people are monks and they’re all on the wrong side of fifty. So what shall be shall be.
It could be worse. The Ramones could be reforming with the Geico lizard on vocals. It’s all about perspective.
Image swiped from blackflaglogo.tumblr.com.
Libyan Hit Squad / Round Eye
East meets west in this split LP from Florida’s Libyan Hit Squad and China’s Round Eye. The Hit Squad does our shores proud with a thick, frenetic tapestry of punk that owes as much to Mission of Burma’s emotionally-charged dissonance as it does to more aggro pavement pounders like the Descendents or Black Flag. Speaking of those heralded giants of thine famed four bars, reclusive Flag guitarist Greg Ginn makes a surprise and surprisingly good appearance with LHS on Full Circle’s math rocky title track. Ginn’s fussy, disintegrating solos are instantly recognizable but don’t distract from the ability of the lesser-known players. The Libyans are just as talented/dynamic as their apparent influences for sure, enough so that I will not disparage either them or Ginn by joking about donations to the latter’s feline rescue charities.
Jazzier in approach (they have actual brass!) but no less busy is Round Eye who hook the listener in with the coy swingin’ fun of their eponymous introductory cut. The horns this outfit employs suggest an artier, more deconstructive approach, but that could be my misinterpretation as a result of listening to too many Stooges records. Round Eye certainly could have hits in the affecting doo-wop slog “I’m So Young” or the jittery open wound “Kenting”; the real joy, however, comes when the band cuts loose on a detuned party mess like “Carne Seca.” The vocals on that sexy entry could merely be a recording of drunken revelers at a twilight rooftop shindig, but the carnal undercurrent works in any setting.
FINAL SCORE: Three and a half multi-colored dragons (out of four).