FLAG at First Avenue, 9/13/13
Photo By Dimitri Coats
With T.S.O.L., Cerebral Ballzy, and Off With Their Heads
First Avenue, Minneapolis
September 13, 2013
For decades-old punks FLAG (original members of Black Flag who are prevented from using the band name by Greg Ginn), there really isn't any wistfulness for one to get lost in. Their frenetic, minute-long punk songs are filled with stories as simple as getting drunk and railing against authority, and such raw, untamed aggression will never go out of style.
Those spirited, turbulent anthems worked the crowd at First Avenue into a frenzy on Friday night, as Flag kicked off their U.S. tour by tearing through 24 blistering songs in 55 taut minutes, delighting the decidedly older audience who still clearly identify with these dissatisfied songs from their youth.
"Before we get started, we just want you to know one thing," sneered vocalist Keith Morris, as if he was making a court mandated proclamation. "We are FLAG, not Black Flag." And with that out of the way, the band launched into a flurry of classic punk hits that only built in intensity as the night wore on. "Revenge," "Fix Me," and a fierce, riotous version of "Police Story" got the set started with a shot. The band -- also featuring original Black Flag members guitarist/vocalist Dez Cadena, bassist Chuck Dukowski, drummer Bill Stevenson, as well as Descendents/All guitarist Stephen Egerton -- were tight and focused, rolling from one subversive song to the next in their well-paced, breathless set.
After fiery, explosive takes on "I Don't Care," "Depression," and "My War," which still has as much relevance today as it did in 1984, someone in the crowd mockingly requested "Freebird" from the band, which caused Morris to unleash for the first time in the set. "Fuck 'Freebird,'" he shouted. "That's for somebody else, not for us." And when another fan told him to get a haircut, he quickly shot back, "Why the fuck would I get a haircut so I would look anything like you." That brazen disregard for rules and control of any kind has fueled the careers of everyone on the First Ave stage on Friday, and after that heated exchange the set, and the roiling pit on the main floor, grew even more volatile.
Feisty versions of "No More," "Gimme Gimme Gimme," and "White Minority" followed in quick succession, with Morris scolding us a bit during a brief break between songs. "We're all gonna die. All of us," he declared. "Don't be in a fucking hurry." And, during a particularly intense version of "Jealous Again," Morris took a brazen shot at Ginn, who has brought a lawsuit against FLAG as well as Henry Rollins, preventing them from using the band name and familiar black bar logo that is so closely associated with Black Flag. "Fuck you, Greg Ginn," Morris screamed during the song's tempestuous high point, bitter sentiments which were echoed by the crowd as well.
But rather than drag us all through their acrimonious relationship with their former bandmate, FLAG poured all of their energy into the raucous songs themselves, and the set thunderously rolled right along, with "Wasted," "Clocked In," and "Nervous Breakdown" all taking on an abrasive edge that hasn't been dulled by either age nor time. Morris then left the stage as Dez greeted the crowd while he took over lead vocal duty. "Hello Minneapolis and San Pablo. Isn't that how you say Saint Paul in Spanish," Cadena joked, before he took on a more snide punk demeanor. "Whether you're a hippie, or a punk with long hair -- fuck you -- this song is for you. It's called...start the song." And with that, he lead the band through a stormy take on "American Waste" that ignited the end of the main set.
"This is what punks know how to write their checks with," Cadena said before the band tore through "Spray Paint," which lead fluidly into highly charged versions of "Thirsty and Miserable," "Padded Cell," and a celebratory take on "Six Pack" which Dez introduced by saying, "All right, let's party," before the boisterous track really set the place off. Morris then returned to the stage to lead the band through an incendiary version of the indelible punk anthem, "Rise Above," and the main floor exploded in a flurry of disaffected unrest and hostility. The blustery song blended seamlessly into the party rock classic, "Louie Louie," with Dez delivering the spirited vocals of farewell before the band left the stage to a rousing ovation that didn't let up.
After a few minutes, the band returned for a somewhat surprising encore, with Cadena sporting a St. Paul Saints jersey as a sign of solidarity with the area. "This was a song that was supposed to be a Black Flag song, but we never got around to putting it on any of our albums," Dez explained. "So, I recorded it with my band [DC3]. It's called 'Ain't No Time Here And Now.'" That track started the encore boisterously, but the night drew to a volatile end with Dez leading the band through a discordant take on "Damaged I," letting us all know that even though we may not be as hostile and angst-filled as we once were, it's still quite satisfying to get pissed off every now and then.
Personal Bias: I've had plenty of beers while listening to the music of Black Flag throughout my life.
The Crowd: An older, mostly male audience who screamed right along to the songs.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Now THAT is a fucking mohawk."
Random Notebook Dump: Openers T.S.O.L. also put on a spirited, punk-fueled show, with frontman Jack Grisham adding to the potency of their songs with stories from the early days of the band, including their first visit to Minneapolis, where they stayed in the motor home of Grant Hart's parents. "You know what really fucked up the punk scene?" Grisham asked. "When people started putting all these labels on whether something was punk or not. I've still got a poster from a Go-Go's show with Hüsker Dü." And indeed, on Friday night at First Avenue, that boundless punk spirit was alive and well.
I Don't Care
I've Had It
Gimme Gimme Gimme
Thirsty And Miserable
Ain't No Time Here And Now
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.