The Scene: An older dressed down crowd of Metal heads and misfits showed up to the Gothic Theatre Thursday to see the legendary and controversial Hardcore band from Hermosa Beach, California, Black Flag. Many seemed to be reliving their youth for the group’s reunion tour, while others came out to see the band just to say they saw Black Flag perform live once. A spattering of underage youths lined the stage right at the door opening. This small group of kids tried to hold down prime viewing spots, gripping the railings in fear of being swept away, while the rest of the large venue remained remarkably empty.
Greg Ginn started Black Flag in 1976 as the primary songwriter and since then the band has had four different vocalists and numerous other band members. The controversy surrounding the band is due to a copyright infringement suit Ginn and SST Records filed against former members of the band for playing Black Flag’s music under the name Flag, as well as a suit against former vocalists Henry Rollins and Keith Morris to cancel their application for a Black Flag trademark. As a result, fans became divided, with many siding with Flag for staying true to the band’s original DIY ethics and being the more authentic version of “Black Flag.”
Opener: Greg Ginn and The Royal We. The best part about set was the service (and earplugs) provided by a bartender. Ginn stumbled through the absurdly long first song with multiple technical difficulties and sound mishaps and looks of horror were seen on numerous faces. One showgoer quipped that the show was divine punishment for wrongs committed during one’s lifetime. The Royal We was Greg Ginn alone onstage with a microphone, a synthesizer, a see-through guitar, a computer and a giant projection screen. The act was hallucinogenic and experimental with high-pitched repeating hooks; listening to it was literally painful. Had this performance happened during a hippie festival with a healthy supply of acid on hand it could’ve been properly appreciated, however a sober viewing of it during what was supposed to be a Punk Rock show was frustrating.
Ginn’s projection screen displayed a continuous stream of various seemingly random scenes and psychedelic and geometric patterns while Ginn rocked out on electric guitar solos. The breaks in between songs were filled with awkward silence and scattered rounds of applause. The music (using the term loosely) was at times mechanical with reverb playing in a pretentious display of showmanship. The crowd stood patiently waiting for the main event barely showing any appreciation or support for Ginn, shifting their weight from one foot to another passing time. Ginn sipped coffee between songs, playing a strange blend of Electronica and Metal riffs. The Royal We receives an A+ for technical guitar and light show and an F for enjoyment.
The second set on the ticket never happened. Although the bill had experimental noise band HOR listed on both the theater’s website and calendar as well as the Facebook event page, HOR was absent with no replacement or explanation. This made the show a $30 (extremely over-priced for a Punk Rock show) two-band ticket, with one of the acts being as far from Punk Rock as possible. H.O.R. is comprised of Greg Ginn (guitar, bass), Andy Batwinas (percussion, synth) and Sean Hutchinson (drums), and touts itself as new age Psychedelia. After suffering through Greg Ginn and the Royal We, more of the same would have been overkill. The break between sets was unnecessarily long (approximately 45 minutes), but the Sinatra tunes that played during this time were welcomed after the headache Ginn calls the Royal We.
Black Flag: A second wave of people filed in during the set break, but the theater remained well below capacity for the headliner. The newly reformed Black Flag is made up of Greg Ginn (guitar), Mike Vallely (aka Mike V, professional skateboarder) who joined as the band’s new vocalist in January 2014. Tyler Smith (bass) and Brandon Pertzborn (drums) also joined Black Flag earlier this year. Vallely did a good job as vocalist but the show felt like a karaoke or cover show. The drummer and bassist played well enough, but the performance lacked authenticity, the pair did not look old enough to have been alive when Black Flag started performing.
Fans enjoyed Black Flags’ old hits, such as “Rise Above,” “Six Pack,” “Fix Me,” “No Values,” “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” “Depression” and “Annihilate This Week.” When the band played songs from their 2013 release entitled What The… some people danced around but few people seemed to know the tracks. The music was solid instrumentally and Vallely’s voice was better than expected, however Black Flag lacked the spark that previous members of the band created with the band Flag. People were certainly appreciative of the influential experience in general, perhaps due to the fact that so many people crowded the bar during the Royal We. The mosh pit was full of fans dancing around to their favorite jams and people screamed the lyrics that stuck with them over the years, but the show seemed like a shallow rip-off of the band. The overpriced and over-promoted Victimology North American Tour 2014 was a let down from start to finish and not at all representative of what the band has stood for over the years.
Stage Presence: B
Set/Light Show: B