Nostalgia can only go so far. For nostalgic reasons, I have been mostly going to shows that relate to my childhood. Really. The interest is a comfort zone that is in the same area as sucking my thumb or having a favorite blanket. Take this show, for instance. Black Flag was one of the first punk bands I had ever seen live when I was a wee little child being corrupted by the evils of this new music they called punk.
I want to state my opinion right here. I want everybody to know that I think that Black Flag's Damaged is one of the most overrated punk records in history. I feel the same way about Henry Rollins. I think his stage presence was perceived as vocal talent. I LOVE everything Black Flag did before Henry became part of the band. My favorite has to be Everything Went Black. Here are my three favorite Black Flag singers: 1 - Ron Reyes (Chavo Pederast), 2 - Dez Cadena and 3 - Keith Morris (Johnny "Bob" Goldstein). My least favorite = Henry Rollins.
I made the effort to purchase a ticket to attend this gig because it was billed as a benefit for cat rescues and a celebration of the first four years of the band's history. Lately, my wife and I have been pretty involved with cat rescues. I have placed feral kittens into rescues so they have a chance to be adopted instead of being euthanized as a means of control by the county's animal services department. I have also adopted a feral colony that has claimed my backyard as their territory. I have sought and received assistance from many organizations in controlling, giving medical assistance to, and feeding this colony. I am grateful and try my best with limited resources to help when I can.
Fu Manchu was the opening band. I had arrived punctually so I could get to the show on time to deal with the venue's aggressive security measures and to deal with obtaining my photo pass. I never really liked the band, so I had made the decision to miss them and hang out with friends outside the venue. I had no desire to see, hear, or take a picture of this band. My loss? I don't care. There are so many punk bands from that period, like the Skulls, D.I., the Crowd, Adolescents, TSOL, etc. that are still performing today who were better suited to play on this show.
Good Riddance was the middle band of this three-band bill. I made it into the venue just as they had mounted the stage and announced they were going to play mostly fast songs due to the amount of time allotted to them. I made a beeline to the front of the crowd to get some pictures. I took some from different angles and out of the blue security people surrounded me. I was informed that no pictures are allowed from the audience area and I had to stop shooting photos. The good news was I was allowed to go in front of the barrier area that separates the stage and the audience and be allowed to take pictures for the duration of three songs.
I walked around as Good Riddance continued to play. I was frustrated at this point and a little over caffeinated from the security incident. I observed that the crowd was acting like flat bread dough. Here was a seasoned band that was absolutely giving their all and the crowd was acting like they were getting their teeth extracted. I know that they could have filled the venue themselves if they were headlining but they were cursed for playing as an opening act. I saw them open for the reformed Bad Brains and played an amazing set but the crowd was not interested. I managed my rage and enjoyed the rest of their set, which included songs from their last four or five releases. If you have never had the opportunity to have sampled this band, you should go out and purchase or borrow one of their many releases. They are pretty diverse for a punk band. They should be able to accommodate, to a certain degree, many different preferences.
Black Flag ended the night and I will break it down it in four parts. Also, I will go over facts that I have read that happened before the show. First of all, it was advertised as "First Four Years." I had read on the internet that Keith Morris (1st singer) would not be participating at this event because Ron Reyes (2nd Singer), Chuck Dukowski (original bassist) and maybe Robo (I believe, was the 2nd drummer) would not be participating in the show. If Keith and the other members were not involved, then it truly wouldn't represent the first four years of the band's existence. I also read somewhere that Greg Ginn (founding guitarist, event organizer) countered and said that the former members who were not participating were doing so by their own choosing because they wanted to be paid even though this was a benefit. You do the research and make a decision.
Black Flag, Part 1: Greg Ginn and Dez Cadena (3rd singer, later rhythm guitar) walk out on stage to start the festivities on guitars. A drummer was present, but the crowd was not informed who he was. They start to play the first few majors of a song I did not recognize and Mike Vallely (Singer of Mike V. and the Rats, pro skateboarder) came out to sing. First thing I notice was I heard a bass guitar, but I didn't see a bass player. I scanned the stage and saw a bass amplifier. I saw a chord plugged into it and it lead to the back of the stage out to nowhere. What the fuck!? An invisible bassist!? That was almost as bad as lip-syncing. The set seemed to be compromised of songs after the Damaged LP.
While I was taking pictures, I was getting pretty wet from the beer and other liquid materials that were flying onto the stage. I didn't mind because I was pissed too. I quickly got bored after I ran out of film shooting pictures and went out to the lobby. It reminded me of the later period band when I couldn't stand hearing their rock songs and believed that they had distanced themselves from the punk scene at that time. I also felt, when I was watching Mike Vallely sing those songs, he had modeled his singing style too heavily on Henry Rollins. People were leaving and those who stayed were pissed. The people who had to pay, me included, had to pay almost $40 for a ticket, after service charges.
Black Flag, Part 2: Drum set change. Robo appeared on stage! That was good news! Who is going to play bass? Is there going to be one? Am I going to get a partial erection because Chuck Dukoski is going to be on stage too? Dez appeared back on stage without a guitar and Greg Ginn had changed his t-shirt. A bass player appeared. I didn't recognize him, but the audience was fortunate enough to be informed by Dez, who was present on stage, that the bassist was named C'el Revuelta, who was the very last bass player the band had. Well, at least the audience had a full band on stage. They started with, I believe, "Thirsty and Miserable" into "Wasted" and continued with "Damaged II." They played a pretty a decent set and I felt they had rectified an almost riotous or disastrous situation. The only drawback was the acoustics of the venue. It often took me awhile to realize what song they were playing. I'm wrong. There was another drawback. During "Louie, Louie," which I believe was the end of this set, Robo did a drum solo. Out of all the drummers I've seen play for Black Flag, he can't touch Chuck Biscuits (DOA, Samhain, Danzig, and Social Distortion) or Bill Stevenson (Descendents and All).
Black Flag, Part 3: This time, no Robo. He was replaced by another unknown drummer and the invisible bass player. This was a long, combined four-part set and at this juncture, Dez was falling apart. His vocal delivery seemed unrehearsed and sloppy. Words were missed and his timing was off. In fact, I think, Greg Ginn was falling apart too. I found it tough to watch. It was getting harder and harder to figure what song they were playing.
Black Flag, Part 4: C'el, the bass player from part two, returned and they continued on. The songs were a blur and were still hard to recognize right of the bat. My attention span was at nil. What are they playing? Oh... That's "Six Pack." What are they playing now...? Oh... They were playing "Depression." Here was my favorite song and it sounded like hamsters racing for chicken feed. They ended the set with "Louie, Louie." Am I out of my fucking mind? I thought they played that song. I must be burned out. The lights came on and I was put out of my misery.
I have to note that there was a good-sized majority that was enjoying the show. My belief was that they either never had seen the band before or intoxicants had taken control of major brain cells. People that I knew who were in attendance that have seen the band before communicated to me that they were quite disappointed.
Final thoughts: I would have kicked myself a new cornhole if I didn't go. At the same time, I am disappointed from the experience. At least I get to look forward in seeing Discharge without their original singer at the end of the week.