First of all, shut up. We get it. Yes, Greg Ginn is the only original member of Black Flag left in the band. No, Henry Rollins does not have nice things to say about Ginn or the current iteration of the band. Yeah, pro-skateboarder Mike Vallely is not the lead singer. You know what? Who cares!
Black Flag was in town Saturday night at Gas Monkey Bar N' Grill, and it was awesome. Shut up.
For anyone who says that Black Flag's current tour is nothing more than a money-grab — in the same vein as the Misfits one-off headliner shows at random festivals around the country — Black Flag put those expectations to bed in the way they entered the stage.
Rather than rushing out and immediately shredding their instruments, the band slowly ambled onto the stage, taking time to tune their own instruments, letting the crowd simmer in anticipation of what was to come. There was silence while the band checked their own levels, then a small stroke of the guitar, a quick mic check, more silence and then it happened.
Starting with the almighty "Depression" from their classic album Damaged, Vallely stepped right into the role carved out by Rollins, Keith Morris and every other lead singer Black Flag has ever had. Definitely a power move asserting the band's right to exist in its present form.
Vallely, who kept his shirt on (unlike Rollins), still held his own, screaming into the floor and getting intimate with the audience, screaming in their faces but also making sure that a fan who fell in the pit was OK.
Here’s the thing, though. Black Flag is Ginn's band.
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We can sit here all day and talk about whether it was punk rock or not that he sued for the rights for the band's trademark and their songs and put the Black Flag expat touring band Flag into a legal dispute. In 2013, former members of Black Flag decided to go on tour as "Flag" while performing Black Flag songs. Ginn sued the band for trademark infringement when they used the Black Flag logo to promote the Flag tour. He also sued former singers Morris and Rollins for using the logo in the promotion of records, merchandise and live performances.
Legalities and trademarks and punk rock ethical debates aside, what makes Black Flag Ginn's band is the fact that he's the one playing guitar. That is why it never really mattered who was in the rest of the cast. Black Flag is just not Black Flag without Ginn's virtuosity.
If you were to watch Ginn play with the sound off, you would be hard-pressed to believe that what you'd hear when the sound came back on. Even if you're not a fan of the hardcore or post-hardcore subgenres that Black Flag helped birth, there is certainly a magnetic image to be found in a hardcore guitarist making aggressive swipes at a guitar, wielding it as though "ax" was not just a euphemism for the instrument. Not so with Ginn. To watch him play is almost like watching a singer-songwriter from the '60s. Rather than pounding on the thing, his right hand barely moved over the pickups as his left had slid gracefully across the fretboard.
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Seeing Ginn's 40-year recording career come to life onstage gave fans, especially the young ones who only know Black Flag as a symbol and a record, a new appreciation for what the band is about. The music can be aggressive and violent, but the musicians and their fans don't have to be. Unless they're in the mosh pit.
As far as mosh pits go, however, the one that lasted throughout the entirety of Black Flag's hourlong set was fairly tame, as fans gave each other friendly shoves and quickly picked up anyone who fell. And it's unlikely that the venue's microscopic signs reading "No moshing, crowd surfing, or aggressive antics," hidden behind the heads of security guards on either side of the stage, had anything to do with the friendliness of the pit. While there was one person ejected for his overly aggressive antics, the vibe from start to finish was completely in line with the ethics of the band they had come to see.
Clearly, the people who showed up for the show were not concerned with the heated online discussions about the merits of the band's present lineup, but if you would have heard the singalongs of "Rise Above," "Six Pack," "Slip It In" or even "Black Coffee," you too would wonder why such debates were ever even necessary.
Black Flag is still Black Flag.