Punk rock reunions are big business, and has been proven time and time again, most differences between former bandmates can usually be put aside for the almighty dollar. Not so with Blag Flag, the legendary California band, who initiated what became hardcore and were also revolutionary as an independent touring machine. Founding member Greg Ginn, who also started SST Records to put the band’s music out, is a notoriously prickly character (many who have done business with him would probably just shorten that to “prick”), and Henry Rollins, who joined the band as lead singer in time for their first album, seems to have no interest in playing with his old collaborators.
As such, it was perhaps no surprise when news came earlier this year that Black Flag was going to tour that it wasn’t a reunion of Ginn with some of the other important figures of Black Flag’s many line-ups, but really a new reiteration of the band. The only former member (besides Ginn) in this Black Flag was Ron Reyes, who had a brief stint with the band in 1979 and who sang on the Jealous Again EP. The rest of the band was filled out by Ginn collaborators from other projects, and once the tour was under way, reports came back confirming that this Blag Flag left something to be desired.
Meanwhile, a group of Ginn’s former bandmates took it upon themselves to form another band to play the Black Flag catalog under the name FLAG. With original bassist Chuck Dubowski and original singer Keith Morris, along with Morris’ replacement Dez Cadena (whose move to guitar made room for Rollins) and drummer Bill Stevenson, who played in Black Flag from 1983 to 1985, this group seemed more legit than the band bearing the original moniker. (A judge apparently agreed, dismissing Ginn’s lawsuit against the group.)
With Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton filling in for Ginn, FLAG certainly looked good on paper, but would this show just be a pleasant stroll down memory lane or would they deliver with the ferocity of their younger selves? After an opening set from TSOL and making it clear to the audience that they were not Black Flag, Morris and the band launched in to “Revenge.” Dubowski bounced around the stage with obvious pent-up energy as he kept up with Stevenson’s manic pounding. “Fix me,” which Morris sang on the Nervous Breakdown EP, followed, but the subsequent heartpounding run through “Police Story” was really thrilling, with Egerton proving his worth as Ginn’s replacement.
The “hits” followed in quick succession: “Depresion,” “My War,” and, of course, “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie.” However, the show went to another level of intensity when Cadena took over on vocals for a handful of songs beginning with “American Waste.” Best, and perhaps the highlight of the night, was “Thirsty and Miserable,” a song he co-wrote. While it was odd to watch members of the crowd gleefully high-five while they sang the song’s refrains, Cadena delivered the lines with a fervor that retained the mix of nihilism and despondency that initially characterized Black Flag’s music. He finished up with “Six Pack” before turning the mic over to Morris for “Rise Above,” which ignited the crowd.
For the all-too-short encore, they ran through their cover of “Louie Louie” and “I’ve Heard It Before,” before finishing with “Damaged I” with Cadena, who co-wrote it as well, on vocals. He improvised on the lyrics to comment on the state of New York, proving the band’s music not to be the sacred cow some might think it is. Nevertheless, FLAG did the Black Flag legacy proud, so much so that Ginn and Rollins were hardly missed.