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