Scenes From Friday Night’s Black Flag Show at Trees.
The angsty kids that grew up listening to and revering Black Flag back in the band’s ’80s heyday — they’re all adults now. And as for the seminal, groundbreaking hardcore band itself? Well, there are two of them these days. And neither of those feature the venerable Henry Rollins.
But each of the two currently-going Black Flag outfits — which just feels like a weird thing to type — does feature one the band’s other two most prominent vocalists in addition to other important figures from throughout the band’s initial run: First, there’s “Flag,” the one led by founding vocalist Keith Morris and also featuring longtime Black Flag members Chuck Dukowski, Bill Stevenson, Dez Cadena, plus Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton; then there’s “Black Flag,” the entity that features Morris’ vocal successor, Ron Reyes, plus founding guitarist and lead songwriter Greg Ginn, who also founded the SST Records label that’s released each Black Flag album.
That latter outfit also features current Screeching Weasel member Dave Klein on bass, plus Gregory Moore on drums. It’s also the outfit that performed at Trees this past Saturday night as part of a short, weekend-long Texas tour that the currently fully Texas-based outfit embarked upon at least partially in response to the announcement that Morris’ version would be hitting the festival circuit this summer.
But whereas Morris remains quite the performer and still ever vocal about his own efforts, the band that hit Trees this weekend — per Ginn’s command, presumably — has been rather mum about its reformation and motives, aside from announcing that this version would be releasing an album of new material later this year.
So there were questions aplenty heading into Friday’s sold-out Black Flag show at Trees.
Would these guys be able to pull off the kind of performances that we know Morris can still squeeze out? How has age treated Reyes and Ginn? How would the new members hold up?
In short, those answers: Not really, fine and decently enough.
The slightly expanded version: It was cool to see Black Flag at Trees for this show. The crowd was a mix of old crust punks, young fans eager to join in on the fun they’d only read about prior, and music nerds looking to scratch a name off of a to-see checklist. And Ginn, rather stoic on stage, didn’t disappoint, firing off riff after riff with ease. But Reyes, for all his efforts, wasn’t particularly engaging — not on Morris’ level, at least. And the other backing players? They were fine, but — rather clearly — just fill-ins, if, yes, decent ones.
But aside from the thrill of hearing such iconic cuts as “Black Coffee,” “Gimmie Gimmie Gimme” and “Rise Above,” and even a cover of “Louie, Louie,” the show kind of dragged a bit, relying too much on Ginn’s fretwork for all of the heavy lifting.
In other words: The checkmark on that aforementioned to-see list got made surely enough, and with some pleasure. But not with much emphasis. Aside from a rather rowdy pit near the front of the stage, much of the crowd stood stagnant throughout the band’s 70-minute performance.
Still, it was more exciting than the opening offering from Good For You — largely the same band as the headliners, minus Reyes and with legendary skater Mike Vallely standing in his stead. This band’s bizarrely extended political blues-punk fell completely flat upon the crowd, which had for the most part resigned itself to ignoring the band and patiently awaiting the headlining performers after just a few of the band’s songs. Ginn’s obviously a guitar hero, but Good For You’s blase offering too often bordered on wankery.
Compared to Good For You’s set, Black Flag’s display was perhaps the greatest of all time — even if, in reality, it was just an OK one that relied too much on nostalgia of yesteryear instead of the immediacy of the moment.