Black Flag (And Others) At The Vex, Sunday July 14th 2013
Who is Black Flag these days, who is the iconic punk band? It’s anybody’s guess as there are currently two bands taking care of the legacy: ‘Black Flag’, reformed by guitarist Greg Ginn and vocalist Ron Reyes, joined by Gregory Moore on drums and Dave Klein (Screeching Weasel) on bass, and another band just called ‘Flag’ with Keith Morris on vocals, Chuck Dukowski on bass, Bill Stevenson on drums and Stephen Egerton (the Descendents) and Dez Cadena (Black Flag, the Misfits) on guitars. It gets complicated, who are the right one? Is there a right one? I am not exactly sure but I jumped on the occasion to see Black Flag at the Vex and I will see Flag at the FYF fest in August, so I got all my Black Flag-Flag covered. I’m certainly no specialist of the legendary punk band but these days anybody pretends to be a fan if I believe all these t-shirts I see about everywhere, so I am, like anybody else, entitled to give my opinion. It’s a strange phenomenon, Black Flag has turned from underground hardcore to every-celebrity-favorite-punk band… have you seen this Tumblr showing pictures of every single celebrity, from Mitt Romney to Lana Del Rey, Rosie O’ Donnell or Ryan Seacrest wearing a Black Flag t-shirt? This has become totally ridiculous and the band probably hates to have become a fashion statement, or doesn’t it?
In any case, the crowd already in line at the Vex was pretty interestingly looking, they were lots of Black Flag (obviously) and other punk band t-shirts, a few Mohawks and lots of punk outfits, it was 90% male, 99% black-clothed and dark hair, and as a blonde wearing a pink tank top, I felt like a cotton candy lost in Alice Cooper’s nightmare. But I was totally okay being an outsider among outsiders. At the entrance, there was a full body search, worst than at the airport, and a total camera ban once again… same craziness, they allowed the phones though but there was no way I could have hidden my camera when been very closely searched by this 200-pound woman. The Vex is an historic east LA punk venue, it was famous in the late 70s and 80s, then it closed down, it has recently reopened and hasn’t probably changed since… I mean I just felt it when I walked inside the large warehouse that can fit more than 1,000 persons, it was dark and raw, and already hot and stuffy when it was still empty, it seemed to be the kind of place where GG Allin had peed on the old carpet still covering the stage. In a short while, it’s gonna feel unbearable I thought… fortunately later during the night, a tube above my head began blowing fresh air every 5 minutes, but the violence of the blow was matching that of the music.
It was just past 7 pm, and I didn’t know yet how long this evening would last – I got home after 1 am as 4 bands played altogether. First, The Goons, a bunch of kids, barely looking 20, probably younger than Bieber and covering Black Flag! Good for them, they were loud and ferocious, had a real energy and attitude (especially the singer) but didn’t show up any fake pretension as their raging and dense punk sound instantaneously ignited a giant moshpit in the room. And this is without to say that these hardcore kids were good-looking kids, angry but cute! One was wearing a black Flag t-shirt, that he didn’t keep very long, and was doing interesting guitar solos, while the singer was screaming his angry gust-like songs and doing all the right moves. So young and so old-school hardcore? How did this happen? The most telling sign was the security, already in alert and a bit afraid of the already-agitated crowd. I was looking around and found a place on the side of the stage, as usual,… the front looked way too scary for me as I was anticipating more chaos to come. The place was already a sweatshop, the atmosphere was heavy and I couldn’t believe that some punks were still wearing leather jackets. There was a cute young girl on my left, she was handicapped and I thought she was very badass to come at a Black Flag concert.
Next, was It’s Casual, a two-piece band, guitar and drums that weren’t exactly the Black Keys. Eddie Solis, on vocals and guitar, was one very angry man, large and looking as dangerous as ferocious, so violent he had pushed down the mic on the crowd during the first song. He was screaming his rage at everyone’s face, looking like a sweaty hurling trembling bull-dog whose bones had been stolen, and honestly, no place was safe. Some crazy things were going on in the pit and terror reigned during their set. He was the kind of guy doing a lot of stare at the crowd while declining his hardcore-metal riffs. He was Thor starting thunder, he was a beast spitting on the floor or eating the whole mic, stepping on the amp during the acceleration-deceleration of the music. Then he looked very victorious at the end of his set, and scared the hell out of people when he left the stage and suddenly came back to hit his guitar hard on the concrete. Just a casual wild ride.
‘Good For You’ was next and the night turned into a sort of double dose Black Flag because it was also a group with Greg Ginn, Gregory Moore and Dave Klein, the only difference in the line up was vocalist, professional skateboarder and actor Mike Vallely. As a new band, they were delivering high-energy angry songs, starting with lots of dissonance and discordance, long jams of sonic chaos and curiously, Greg Ginn was using a theremin beside playing guitar. With his blonde long hair and beard, Vallely could have rather played Jesus Christ superstar than fronted a punk band, but he proved to have a certain charisma, pointing his finger like a damned prophet, even when he was just shouting ‘fuck’ over a long chaotic jam during their first song. As a skateboarder, he was playing it physical, drenching his shirt of sweat very fast, but actually, he wasn’t the only one… They already have an album entitled ‘Life Is Too Short to Not Hold a Grudge’, which speaks by itself. As the pit was growing bigger, the rest of the songs sounded kind of Black Flag, at times more chaotic, slow and lugubrious, meandrous and repetitive, and I got bored mid-set as the songs got too carried away by these endless psychedelic hardcore chaos.Were they wanted to be the grateful dead of hardcore? Later on, while Ginn was pulling double duty during Black Flag’s set, Vallely stayed on stage, partially blocking my view… Apparently being a fan and a frontman gives you a front row seat.
I got so sorry to not have my camera when Black Flag took the stage! People had been expecting them for more than 4 hours (yes!) and they unleashed a fury, a human tsunami that the security had the hardest time to contain. Ron Reyes was screaming like a beast nevertheless I had a hard time to hear the vocals… it was loud, that’s an understatement, and if the earthquake calmed down a bit after the first songs, there were numerous after-shocks every time they were playing one of their big hits like ‘Fix Me’, ‘Six Pack’, ‘Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie’, ‘Rise Above’,… actually they were almost all hits or anthems for these youngsters. Black Flag is old, and I couldn’t see the age of the people doing the large pit, but the people in the front, crashing each other against the barricade, were all young. A few young girls were carried at arm length above the crowd, and security guards were pushing back the bodies arriving over their heads, as no crowd surfers were accepted in the pit.
From where I was, I didn’t recognize most of the songs, the furious sound was crashing my eardrums and the vocals were buried in Greg Ginn’s distortion, he was still using this theremin by the way, may be to look more artsy? Call me ignorant but I had never imagined a theremin when I looked at this black & white pictures of old Black Flag concerts. As I was watching short Ron Reyes, I was thinking I wished I had seen Black Flag in the 80s when it was fronted by Rollins or even earlier when it was Morris, Reyes was doing a great job, but he wasn’t really an imposing figure like Rollins, or a witty ball of fire like Morris. That was one incarnation of Black Flag, not totally Black Flag, as I was drawing comparisons with the ‘No Flag’ gig I had seen a few years ago when Morris and Dukowski had joined the punk band No Age on stage: Same assaults, same aggressiveness and same response from the audience, but still a different show. However my ideas weren’t clear anymore after such a long wait in this stuffy hot room with that violent cold air occasionally blowing my hair… this thing ended being more like a mini festival or something and I was half-dead and couldn’t take notes anymore. They did the classics and some new ones, but I would have enjoyed the show so much more if they had played 3 hours earlier! Gosh, I had moved a bit because Vallely was sitting in front of me and obstructing the view, and it was even smelling human pee now! I was right about this GG Allin carpet. However, everyone seemed to have a great time, I saw a guy so drenched in sweat that he looked like he had just stepped out of the shower, and the young handicapped girl was even standing up during the best parts. As I was in line to try exiting through the very narrow door – how can the venue get away with that by the way? – I was thinking about all these kids, I thought Black Flag was for the misfits and rebels, but looking at this new Black Flag high demand (they played two shows at the Observatory the same week), they were looking more mainstream than ever. I just have the feeling these past shows will not satisfy the die-hard fans, so see you all at the FYF Fest in August.
I’ve Had it
Nervous Break Down
Blood and Ashes
Now is the Time
It’s not my Time to Go Go
Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie
Wallow in Despair
Down in the Dirt
Louie Louie (cover)