I’ll try to keep my review/story of my trip to LA to see Black Flag short and sweet. I think I’ll try this summary style. You know, with shorts and hanging out at the pool, vacations. See what I did there? Summer… summary… never mind.
In July I decided that since Chuck, Robo, Keith, Chavo and Dez were playing that I would head out for the Black Flag “The First Four Years” show in Hollywood. I was a little nervous since I had seen The Greg Ginn Band butcher some Flag songs about ten years ago here in St. Louis. I was convinced there was a band of fifteen-year-old kids doing them better in a basement at the same moment I was watching them.
I can always use an excuse to get out of St. Louis and go to LA. I love LA. It’s not just a song. I really do. I like the way it looks. I like the way it feels. I hate they way they tow your car within an hour of parking in a red zone.
I got to skate with Todd and Sean. That was a blast. Whittier was fun and easy, Upland big and scary. Give me a week next time I might actually be able to skate that monster. But Upland is amazing and I’m glad I got to try it out. Shopping for records at Dr. Strange is also a treat. Although the sideways sifting in the back room is hard on the back after skating all day.
I also spent time with my friend Steve who is also from St. Louis. He was out there for work and the show. I met some rock stars. I didn’t know they were rock stars until they walked away and Steve told me who they were. But, all in all, they were nice guys.
Friday was spent trolling around Melrose and spending more money at Headline. Then the big night. The Black Flag show which by then I knew was not going to be the show I signed up for. This would make my eighth time seeing Black Flag. Well, almost.
I love Black Flag. I saw them seven times from 1984 through 1986. I will admit that at the last show it was so over. There was hardly anyone there and it kind of blew. But those six before it blew me away every time. I will admit right now that I am in the minority and may have to do punk rock community service for admitting this now. But I think Rollins was the BEST Flag singer. That’s right, I said the BEST. I also think that side two of Damaged is the most powerful album side next to Jerry’s Kids Is This My World. I think that Rollins was a conduit for the power that Ginn put out there. He was like an angry marionette that Ginn manipulated with guitar strings. When My War came out I hated it just like everyone else. But the drummer of the band I was in at the time gave me the record and told me to keep listening to it. That I would get it. He was right. I finally got it. It hit me all at once that it was amazing. Hardcore was being slowed down but the power remained the same. This was a little tiny event before the “cross over” kids took over and killed hardcore, turning it into some sort of jock/metal nightmare. Granted, I quit buying Flag records after Slip It In, which contains my very favorite song by Black Flag. “The Bars.” You can’t put that song next to “Nervous Breakdown” and tell me it doesn’t blow it away. Don’t get me wrong. I like “Nervous Breakdown” as much as the next guy. But come on, Chuck wrote one great song there.
On to the show. Bad and confusing is the best way to sum it up. I spent a lot of time thinking, “What were they thinking?” First, I sat through Mike V and the Rats. As a singer Mike makes a great skater. Maybe if the sound had been better. The next band was 1208 or 1280 or WD-40. I don’t remember. Pretty much boring hardcore. Again, the sound was so bad they might have rocked for all I could tell.
The first part of the Black Flag show was with Mike singing the My War record, Dez on guitar with Greg, a really bad drummer and Dale Nixon on bass. That’s right. You get it if you were paying attention. They had no bass player but they did have the bass parts played on a DAT controlled by the drummer. It sucked. All of a sudden, I’m seeing Black Ministry Flag. The best part of this section of the show was when some kid went out into the lobby, ripped down a poster, and made his own sign. It read, “Bait and Switch.”
The second part of the show they tore down the drums and set up another kit. Then out walks Robo as well as a live bass player. I was told it was the guy that played on the last Flag records. Why didn’t he just play the whole show? Why didn’t Robo just play the whole show? Why did they do My War when it was billed as “The First Four Years”? I shouldn’t have this many questions at a punk rock show. At this time they played all the stuff from Damaged on back with Dez now singing. Why didn’t he just sing the whole show? Again, the sound was awful. I thought I was losing my mind. I couldn’t tell what songs they were playing. It would be seconds into the next song before I could figure out what the one before it was.
After the Robo part they lose the bass player and drummer. Then they plug Dale back in and Dez continues to sing. This went on for nearly two hours. But hey, I could have been in St. Louis trying to kill time on a Friday night instead of being bummed out at a Black Flag show. Did I mention this was all for cats? Rock for cats? I will allow the obvious joke about why guys get into bands slide right by me.
The absolute worst thing about the show is that they seemed to be unrehearsed. How can you have the most rehearsed band in the world end up like that? They were not only confusing me with the line up but they were sloppy on top of everything else. There is no excuse. It’s as if they took no care in what they did. I did a set of Black Flag songs back in June. We practiced for two months at least once a week. I was scared that we wouldn’t be tight enough. I couldn’t stand the thought of messing up those songs. I wish Greg had felt the same way about them.