Saturday, June 28, 2014

Concert Review: BLACK FLAG and GREG GINN & THE ROYAL WE in Minneapolis

Black Flag, Greg Ginn & The Royal We
Sunday, June 15, 2014
Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis, MN

Click on any of the pictures to see more photos of the respective band over at my Flickr site.

Way back in the summer of 1985 I had a ticket to see the Henry Rollins-fronted Black Flag play at a boathouse in Cedar Falls, Iowa; I missed the show due to a family vacation, sold my ticket to a friend, and never once did I ever again think I’d have the chance to see this iconic punk band play live. Nearly 30 years later, founder, guitarist, and only constant band member Greg Ginn assembled a new version of the band. Other ex-members of the band have been touring as Flag, but Greg Ginn’s version is the real deal.

Greg Ginn using a theremin.

I missed opener Cinema Cinema, but arrived in time for Ginn to walk on stage to introduce his solo project, Greg Ginn & The Royal We as “sensitivity training” before seeing Black Flag. Ginn’s other bands and projects have always veered into eclectic territory, but The Royal We was a real head scratcher. All instrumental, the set consisted of Ginn playing along to prerecorded tracks with a cold, mechanical feel accompanied by a TV monitor that ran a mix abstract images, black and white movie clips, and World War II footage. When not playing guitar Ginn fooled around with a theremin, an old, hands-free, noise-generating instrument capable of producing all sorts of spooky, bizarre sounds. It was interesting at best, and the crowd responded with mild, yet respective applause.

It didn’t take long for Black Flag to take the stage with a short instrumental introduction that led into “Rise Above”, one of the band’s signature fast anthems that immediately worked the crowd into a frenzy. Current vocalist, professional skateboarder Mike Vallely, rarely spoke to the crowd, and the band seemed intensely focused throughout the set, as if they had something to prove after being away for so long. The entire performance was tight, and audience went nuts as the band ripped through expected classics like “Gimme Gimme Gimme”, “Six Pack”, “Slip It In”, and “TV Party”. A great selection of songs was brought out; my personal favorites being “Black Coffee”, “Annihilate”, and “Damaged”. All told, Black Flag played 20 songs before being called back for the encore of “Louie Louie”, which had Ginn swap his guitar with bass player Tyler Smith to become Dale Nixon (the name credited to his bass playing on albums). Ginn passed the bass off to Vallely near the end of the song to hop into the audience, where he remained after the show to speak and take pictures with fans.

The half-filled room was a disappointment (shouldn’t this have sold out??), but the fiery, take-no-prisoners performance was everything I had hoped for. Legal disputes with Flag (settled out of court in Ginn’s favor) seem to have divided Black Flag fans. Sarah Stanley-Ayre published a harsh, negative review of this show over at City Pages that left me befuddled. It would seem logical that as the band’s founder, primary songwriter, and only consistent member, Greg Ginn should have the sole right to the Black Flag name and any associated images and logos. To say that the current version of Black Flag “wasn’t Black Flag”, and that “The whole thing felt like watching a cover band who was incredibly well-practiced” is probably exactly how I would describe Flag (if I gave a crap about seeing them). I take issue with too many of the inaccuracies and descriptions of this review to detail them all here.

What Flag did—assemble a cast of fleeting ex-members, bring along a hired gun guitarist, ape the band’s logo, use the four-bars symbol on merchandise, and even call themselves Black Flag at a “reunion show”—is embarrassing and insulting and disrespectful to fans. In the metal world, this would be like ex-Megadeth members Nick Menza, James Lomenzo, and Chuck Behler hiring Gamma Ray/Helloween guitarist/vocalist Kai Hansen to take the place of Dave Mustaine, calling themselves “Deth” (stylized in the Megadeth logo), and selling T-shirts with mascot Vic Rattlehead. Sounds ludicrous doesn’t it?

Black Flag returns to the area on Sunday, July 20 for a show at the Amsterdam Bar & Hall in St. Paul with support from Greg Ginn & The Royal We and Cinema Cinema.

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