Sure, there was plenty of speculation about Black Flag reuniting. A previous reunion ten years ago was disastrous and forgettable. Seemed like the band was best left as a myth and plenty of fans were fine with that. Especially since there's no way longest-tenured singer Henry Rollins will ever play again with mastermind Greg Ginn. So what does the latest incarnation of Black Flag bring to the table in 2013?
Essentially, this is a Black Flag that plays the old stuff that people want to hear the most. Spoken word interludes and punk-prog-jazz jams are kept to a minimum in favor of the most urgent and shortest material. Those lucky to squeeze into an at-capacity Trees on Friday night had the pleasure of seeing this with their own eyes.
Reunited with vocalist Ron Reyes, whose original time with the band was very short-lived, the four-piece delivered 22 songs in a little over an hour. Rapid fire blasts of "Fix Me," "Depression" and "No Values" sounded full and cathartic. New bassist Dave Klein was the key weapon as his fluid jazz and punk stylings fit perfectly with Ginn's John McLaughlin-meets-Johnny Ramone style. Drummer Gregory Moore, a longtime collaborator with Ginn, did decently as he pumped along his enormously-sized drums.
Reyes might be over 50 and Ginn might look more like Tom Stoppard, but they still capture an angst which isn't exclusively tied to the teenage years. When Reyes sings about being "down in the dirt," his facial expressions fit exactly with how he sings those words. There's a broken dream nature to all of Black Flag's material, and Reyes certainly kept that spirit alive.
This wouldn't be punk show if it didn't have its share of technical issues. Unfortunately they were often distracting throughout the band's set. Ginn's guitar kept going out, leaving holes in the onslaught of aggression. Good thing Klein helped carry the water by never letting up on the fretboard. Reyes even changed the lyrics of "No Values" from "I've got no values" to "I've got no guitar amp."
Plenty of people enjoyed the hell out of classics like "Six Pack," "TV Party" and "Black Coffee" and they tolerated a couple of new songs. Ending the set with a cover of "Louie Louie," Reyes sincerely thanked the audience and said they'd be back in Dallas again.
Ginn, Moore and Klein did double duty as openers Good For You. Paired up with skateboarding legend Mike Vallely on vocals, the band gave Ginn his chance to let the psychedelic bluesy jams go on and on. And on. A handful of times, the material felt yawn-inducing and indulgent, but all sins were forgiven once Black Flag cranked in.
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Locals Mind Spiders, who have been performing as a four-piece for the past six months, had the much better opening set. Testing some new material out alongside favorites from their previous two albums, frontman Mark Ryan was in good spirits as the band rolled out 12 go-go surf rock blasts.
Personal bias: A staple of my teenage years was Henry Rollins' memoir on his life in Black Flag, Get in the Van. Seemed like a fascinating story and I have remained a fan of Rollins ever since. That said, I came into this show with an open mind. Black Flag's segment in the original Decline of Western Civilization (with Reyes on vocals) is one of the highlights for me, so I was glad to see Reyes back with the band.
Black Flag's set list: "Revenge" "I've Had It" "Nervous Breakdown" "Fix Me" "The Chase" "Blood and Ashes" "Depression" "No Values" "Now is the Time" "Six Pack" "TV Party" "It's Not My Time to Go-Go" "I'm Sick" "Black Coffee" "Gimmie Gimmie Gimme" "Police Story" "Wallow in Despair" "Down in the Dirt" "Can't Decide" "Rise Above" "Jealous Again" "Louie Louie"