Black Flag returns with a new lineup, but still pushes original ethic
It wasn't even a year ago that Greg Ginn declared his intent to reanimate the band he founded and whose demise was presumed permanent for a quarter-century. Black Flag emerged from Hermosa Beach, Calif., in the late 1970s, and the effect was incendiary from the start. In eight years, they recorded three live albums, six studio albums and eight EPs, leaving their mark both aurally and aesthetically, while helping to craft a business model that remains highly influential to this day.
The arrival of a new version of Black Flag in Jacksonville, some 35 years after their debut, is not so much a performance as a pilgrimage for a generation of artists, musicians and whatnot who've been part of one of the more rabid fan bases in modern music. (You can still find unopened copies of Black Flag records around town, if the money is right.)
"They had a big influence on me," wrote political consultant and radio host Scott Gaillard in an email interview. "When I started playing guitar, Black Flag was THE U.S. punk band. … ['Six Pack'] was probably my favorite song, when I first heard it. The slowly building intensity and the blast-off point inspired many a punk fan to join the fold. [Henry] Rollins' gravel-soaked lyrics fit perfectly with Ginn's screeching feedback-tinged fills. Sure it was about silly beer drinking, but it was also a song about male bonding, aimless youthful energy and angst."
"I'm influenced more by their ethic than their music," said musician/producer Steve Barakat. "Their music was influenced by their ethic, too. It evolved quite a bit. … They didn't ask for permission or help from anyone; they didn't care if anyone liked them either. They were the forefathers of DIY … but once their fans got complacent with their punk-rock formula (i.e.: ‘TV Party,' ‘Six Pack,' ‘Police Story') and they were typecast as a ‘punk band,' they recorded ‘The Process of Weeding Out' and ‘Family Man,' which were openly influenced by avant-garde jazz composer Ornette Coleman — because they specifically wanted to ‘weed out' their closed-minded fans. My point is that Black Flag isn't about a ‘sound,' it's about an ethic, a ‘punk rock' ethic of pushing the envelope, not adhering to a punk ‘sound' or ‘fashion.' "
Ginn founded the band and the SST label, wrote most of the songs and is the only person to play in all of its many incarnations, each of which occupies a distinct place in the collective mythology of its fans.
The current group includes Ron "Chavo" Reyes, who succeeded Keith Morris as lead singer and recorded the "Jealous Again" EP before famously quitting mid-show in 1980, drummer Gregory Moore and Screeching Weasel bassist Dave Klein, who wasn't even born when the first Black Flag EP dropped. This version has already released "Down in the Dirt" and "The Chase" in May and "Wallow in Despair" in August, the first new Black Flag songs in more than 20 years.
While it will never be like 1984, when Black Flag released three albums and played 178 shows in a single year, Ginn (who turned 59 in June) is touring and performing with the vigor of a man half his age. The Brewster's gig comes midway through a run that will ultimately encompass at least 58 shows in 171 days, covering 24 states, six countries, three continents and Puerto Rico — not bad at all.
Consider, also, that Ginn is doing double duty on these gigs — he also plays guitar for the opening band, Good For You, a new group he started with singer/skateboarding legend Mike Vallely.
It's not like these guys have been in hibernation: Various Black Flag alumni (there are at least 19) have all remained active in the music business. They can be found in the discographies of bands as varied as Dos, Danzig, Descendants, Circle Jerks, DOA, Rollins Band, Misfits, Redd Kross, Social Distortion and Run-DMC. (Former bassist Kira Roessler won two Emmys for sound editing at HBO — one for "John Adams," the other for "Game Of Thrones.")
Of course, it wouldn't be a Black Flag — um, anything — without a healthy dose of controversy. Ginn's historically contentious relationship with bandmates boiled over this year. A group called Flag is also touring now, comprising original singer Morris, original bassist Chuck Dukowski (who was also tour manager and co-owner of SST), longtime drummer Bill Stevenson and Descendants guitarist Stephen Egerton. Predictably, legal action ensued. Ginn sued his former bandmates earlier this month, accusing them of lying to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office and committing "outrageous fraud," according to the Hollywood Reporter.