Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis
Sunday, June 15, 2014
Punk rock certainly needed Black Flag, but does it need two different bands playing Black Flag material in 2014?
Last night at the Triple Rock, establishing and sole continuous band member Greg Ginn tackled these important questions by leading his current incarnation of Black Flag through a blistering 22-song set, though only after subjecting us to perhaps one of the weirdest musical side project of any living punk rock legend: Greg Ginn and the Royal We.
Cinema Cinema started off the night when Hor, the other opening band, decided not to show up. An audience member was overheard enthusiastically describing Cinema Cinema as sounding like a combination of Pantera, Clutch and Rush, which is actually somewhat of an accurate description. They plunged through a set of songs tinged with influences of stoner and doom metal as the room filled with the scent of marijuana pouring forth from the mystery of backstage.
It's possible that the weed smell was Ginn preparing for his set as Greg Ginn and the Royal We -- a band made of just one person yet so seemingly schizophrenic in nature that the "We" in its name is a necessary preface.
Ginn's "Royal We" project was probably the most confusing thing that could have happened to all of the punx in attendance. The concept itself seemed interesting enough, but everything else about it was awkward, alienating and poorly executed. At times, it felt like a joke.
"This is hella wack, dude," commented a man in the audience. "I think all that money he won in court just went to his head." Last summer, Ginn sued the members of Flag for performing Black Flag songs and for using the iconic Black Flag bars logo. Initially, a judge ruled against Ginn's claims. Yet just a couple of month's ago, Ginn claimed to have reached a settlement agreement -- probably what that audience member was referencing.
For the duration of the set, Ginn had propped up a television on a table next to his set up of an Apple laptop, various plug-ins to his guitar and a theremin. Yes, a theremin. As a driving, droning prerecorded industrial backing track emerged from the lap top, Ginn kept his eyes shut tight, leaning precariously and moving his head passionately side to side with the beat as he harshly plucked his guitar in what sounded like a misguided attempt at psychedelia. Every so often he would wave one hand in front of the theremin, as if playing shadow puppets.
All the while, the television was displaying various scenes of women dancing, odd images if people performing rituals, and finally images of war and of disasters like the Hindenburg. The television seemed oddly out of place. Every element felt out of place. There was no sort of cohesion in anything. The audience seemed angry. A couple of heads nodded here and there, but primarily people just looked forlorn and confused. It didn't even seem as if the set was practiced -- it would have been no surprise had we learned that everything was actually improvised.
When it was all over, people were visibly relieved. It was clear that everyone just wanted to get on with it and watch Black Flag perform. It seemed unfair that Ginn had forced us all to sit through his bizarre solo act as if we had to prove that we really deserved to see Black Flag.[page]
To the opening bars of "Rise Above," a mosh pit began to form. The younger crowd thrashed violently, pushing between one another and staring forlornly at the signs that adorned each speaker onstage: "No stagediving." Singer Mike Vallely appeared to have woken up inside of his childhood dream to find himself as the lead vocalist for Black Flag. He had obviously been singing along with these songs for many, many years before taking over the role as frontman.
It was almost humorous that it was actually Father's Day, because it seemed like Ginn was a father onstage jamming out with his three sons. "The fucking drummer looks like he's ten," someone commented. People shouted along the lyrics to "6 Pack." It was clear that everyone was so nostalgic for the songs themselves that it didn't matter whatsoever how lackluster the performance of the band was, and people continued singing along and having fun despite the banal performance.
Yes, singer Vallely was consumed by his passion for the music, clearly. Bassist Tyler Smith looked like he was having the time of his life. Drummer Brandon Pertzborn was actually incredible to watch, his tiny limbs sprouting impossible large muscles to support his aggressive playing style. It seemed like the guy had been training his whole life to take over this position. Everything looked like it made sense. The young crowd moshing was immensely pleased. Older punk folks were smiling shit-eating grins as if they'd just had a cup of tea with Henry Rollins himself. People kept forming lines to the merch booth to consume, consume, consume.
Then what was wrong with the picture? Well, this wasn't Black Flag. This was a man's dream, hyper-extended into a future that doesn't necessarily want or need the dream. This was an effort that maybe just wasn't worth being taken. Throughout the night, discussions regarding how much better Flag is then Black Flag could be heard everywhere. The whole thing felt like watching a cover band who was incredibly well-practiced. It felt like watching the product of years and years of really devoted karaoke.
The playing was generally tight. They touched upon big hits like "Gimme Gimme Gimme," and "Nervous Breakdown." The whole catalog was there, but it wasn't truly their catalog. Is it fair that one guy can take all of the songs from a band that he played in, add three other guys, and tour all over the place making money off of those songs and selling the accompanying T-shirts and albums?
The band didn't say anything between songs. The only crowd interaction was when Vallely took a brief pause towards the end of the set to introduce all of the band members, and then paused to do it again two songs later before playing "Louie Louie," their last track. The whole time, Ginn was playing that damned theremin. Throughout the entire set, about half of the audience had left. Perhaps people had begun to wake from their own dream. How long will it take Ginn to wake from his, or at least to stop dragging us along with him for the ride?
Critic's Bias: I just don't get it. I was stoked to hear Black Flag songs, yeah, but I could easily play them on my iPod or even sing them myself at karaoke. Also their rendition of "Nervous Breakdown" made me really depressed.
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I'd Rather Die
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