Paul McCartney famously remarked that you can’t reheat a souffle, in reference to getting The Beatles back together long before Mark David Chapman made that an impossibility. Recreating a band’s feel and impact later on in life is a tricky proposition, but it hasn’t keep scores from trying. Greg Ginn has joined that effort, recruiting second Black Flag singer Ron Reyes back on stage under the Black Flag name, along with a no-name rhythm section. Seriously, the drummer is called Drummer. In an interesting twist, original singer Keith Morris (better known these days as lead agitator of OFF!) has done the same recruitment from the generous roster of ex-Black Flag performers, calling that project simply Flag.
I’ll get the chance to do a direct comparison later this summer when Flag plays Boston, but Ginn’s version managed to hold their head above water pretty well. The new song that dropped a few weeks ago, “Down In The Dirt,” remains a dirgey, dismal effort that sucked energy out of the room as it dragged endlessly along in some sort of sub-Stoogian mire. But when dealing with a punk rock songbook that is pretty much the blueprint for US punk rock, hardcore, and noise beyond those realms, it’s easy to get things back on track in convincing fashion.
When Dinosaur Jr got back Lou Barlow back in the fold, they originally just stuck to material he played on. With Reyes on the mic, that would be a very short show, so he was forced to sing songs that mentally had Morris’ or Rollins’ voiceprint all over them. He managed to keep it from being punk rock kaoraoke, and stone cold classics like “Fix Me,” “Nervous Breakdown,” “Police Story” and “Rise Above” generated a maelstrom of surging bodies and flying limbs in the crowd.
Black Flag made the extremely smart decision to have it all all ages show, hearkening back to the roots of the genre where the kids would go nuts before the police shut it all down. There was no danger of law enforcement pulling the plug early, but having hordes of teens skanking through the pit and floating on top of each other brought a kinetic energy that would have been sorely lacking had the room just been filled with punk era veterans with graying hair and softened bodies. Ginn’s guitar work has been enormously influential, moving past the regimented power chord attack that marked the early days and spiraling out of control to touch the jazz, noise, and improv corners of the world. It would be a far different landscape without his contributions, and he showed he could still pinball between the tight attack of “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie” and the noise splat sections of “Black Coffee,” conjuring clouds of noise from his theremin with one hand while still strangling notes from his guitar with the other.
The last Black Flag tour had Ginn’s other project, Gone, opening the shows (see the tour documentary shot by Dave Markey here). He pulled the same trick here with Good For You taking the stage first. It had the same rhythm section, Ginn’s guitar and theremin, and bringing ex-pro skateboarder Mike Vallely back to mic duties; he’d originally been enlisted to sing on 2003’s Black Flag reunion shows that Ginn orchestrated. Gone’s vision was fractured jazz-skronk filtered through an SST prism but Good For You had the distinct whiffs of Rollins Band, a muscular version of hard rock that suited Valleley’s stage moves and mic stand antics but little more.
Boston’s Ho-Ag pulled opening duties, and their varying stage looks mirrored their sonic stew. The wild-bearded bass player provided bottom-end swagger while the smartly-coiffed synth player kept the edges frayed, Ubu-style. Flecks of Lungfish, the afore-mentioned Pere Ubu, Girls Against Boys, and Brainiac peppered their sound. After a five year period of silence, their new record World Destroying Zig-Zags greets the world.
Black Flag: blackflagofficial.com
Good For You: goodforyouband.com