Black Flag:  the Engine Rooms, Southampton – live reviewLive Review

Black Flag: the Engine Rooms, Southampton 11/10/2019

The Greg Ginn/ Mike Vallely line-up of the legendary American Hardcore band tour the UK and go down a storm with many people…. not our man.

This is gonna be a very cynical review … and will probably say more about me being up-my-own-ass, than ‘Black Flag’.

This was a ‘rock show’ rather than a ‘punk gig’.  Not quite a full house like London, a crowd of young, old and inbetween, predominantly male, black-t-shirt but a mixture of rock-fans of all stripes…. there to see a legendary, influential group….

Support Total Chaos were absolute precision. A Metal version of UK82 punk formula with no wit or verve or originality.  Great sound, perfect dynamics, the ‘look’ down to a tee…. people down the front seemed to love ’em. A dozen different t-shirts on sale…. Left me cold. Had more fun smoking damp roll-ups in the rain outside.

Black Flag were cranked-up really high. A decent decibel-level but not as loud as it could’ve been.  The rhythm section were spot-on, note perfect, hard-hitting…  Vallely does the job vocally, rarely speaks between songs. The attention is on Ginn.  Wirey old bastard who started the band and patented that guitar-sound and style. Punk-metal-jazz condensed into flaming hardcore.   He shakes his head like a dog who has come in from the rain when he plays. He can still squeeze out sparks and use his instrument like a flamethrower…. but he is looking like a dude who’s coming up for retirement and is counting the days.

It’s a hits set – all the classics  – except Wasted and My War and I would venture the reason being, those songs are personified by their respective vocalists on the original recordings: Keith Morris and Rollins. A set which started with Depression and ended with Rise Above and the inevitable Louie Louie but took in impressive versions of Gimme Gimme Gimme and TV Party, meant everyone got what they came for.

It was a good value for money set but personally I coulda done without songs like Slip It In and the longer dragging metallic ones but a lot of the audience probably loved ’em.

Friday night fatigue after a weeks work (me)- or a band who are a bit of a tribute to their former selves?  Bit of both maybe  – but this wasn’t the inspirational gig I was hoping it might be.

The whole saga of Black Flag and the legal disputes between former members shouldn’t matter  – but does. The fact that there were no Black Flag t-shirts and merch on sale tells a sorry tale. (Presumably Pettibon and SST owns the rights so Ginns Flag wouldn’t profit?).

Seb from The Crash Landings summed it up well when he said to me, “They are about as much ‘Black Flag’ as Peter Hook and the Light are ‘Joy Division’ – but I really enjoyed the set and the guitar sounded great -so I don’t actually mean it derogatory way…” It’s just a fact.

Last two UK tour dates
Saturday 12th October Cardiff The Tramshed  
Sunday 13th October Manchester Academy 2

Words by Ged Babey  for Louder Than War

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Ged Babey is 56. from Southampton, has written since 1985 for Sound Info, Due South, various fanzines and websites, contributed to Record Collector magazine and was sole author of 'Punk Throwback' fanzine -the name of which was taken from an insult hurled at him by the singer with a young band he managed for a while. Ged believes that all good music and art has a connection with punk rock.


  1. I was clipping the mixing desk… it could not have been louder without an amplifier going into melt-down, I was trying though!!!
    Band were sound as fook. Guitarist; lovely bloke. I saw the reviewer there… he was smiling. :) Peace.

  2. “(Presumably Pettibon and SST owns the rights so Ginns Flag wouldn’t profit?).”

    Ginn owns SST, and there’s quite a few Black Flag t-shirts for sale on their site.

  3. I saw them in 1984 with Rollins back to back at Retford Porterhouse and Leeds Bierkellar. They opened both shows with an overtly long instrumental which brought a reaction from certain members of no more than 30 people at Retford. There was a nightclub open in the same building and two punters from there got into an argument with Rollins over ‘British Punk Rock’ which eventually saw them scarper out of the room. It was confrontational and Rollins also had a lad in a Destroy sweatshirt who looked like he was completely stoned stand on the stage next to a pole motionless whilst they performed one of their songs. At the end of the song Rollins pushed him off the stage and said ‘There, go and destroy’, and he fell down in a big heap on the floor. I interviewed both Greg Ginn and Rollins after the gig and was surprised how friendly Ginn was and how distant and aggressive Rollins was. Maybe they were jetlagged? Leeds the next day was an all-dayer with bands like Cult Maniax, Hagar The Womb and the splendid Newtown Neurotics and it seemed like an age before Black Flag appeared, They had gone much heavier and were promoting the My War album. I’m certain the show was filmed live but I prefer to remember the gig how I saw it. I recollect Rollins coming offstage and standing on a table with various punks beneath him looking wasted if you will pardon the pun. I prefer to remember them from their early days of the Damaged album.

  4. It is what it is. Saw them in Cardiff on Saturday. It’s the Ginn show and the band respect that. They’re tight. Some of the Cardiff crowd moaning re. the longer free form elements of the gig but in fairness the band were on point, and with these guys best to leave your expectations at the door and watch a tight band do their thing. Ginn will do what he wants and that’s fair enough IMO.

  5. They sure had t-shirts for sale at that gig, just didn’t get them out till the support finished. Do me I would have liked to hear more later songs, and Greg did fine for a man who has smoked that much weed. He went straight into the audience straight after the show to chat to people, and in this day a fairly cheap ticket price for a touring band from USA.

  6. I met Ginn and Rollins in a staircase at a gig in Illinois. Got to spend time with both of them. Ginn was friendly but vacant. Rollins was angry, or that was his shtick. He had negative things to say about “punk rock” and you don’t have to go far ( you tube ) to see clips of him being a cranky critic of all things punk related in the day. I find that interesting considering now he’s all over the punk era; brags it up on his media whenever he can. I wonder if he remembers what a dick he used to be. We all mature and learn from life, so I’ll just chalk it up to youthful bad attitude. Still, he’s not my favorite person of that time.


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