On Monday, a band calling itself Black Flag is going to set up and play some tunes at Walters Downtown. For some of us, this is a pretty big deal. If you were too young or two fucked-up to remember the legendary L.A. punks' storied early-'80s heyday, this gig likely represents your most legitimate shot in 30 years at catching the band that launched 1,000 tattoos.
While this group has got the name and the founder -- the incendiary, priggish Greg Ginn -- in place, they're not the only loose nuts banging out Black Flag's damaged anthems on tour these days. Another group of SST expatriates calling itself FLAG is also traveling the country, offering up its own version of punk nostalgia. After three decades of nothing, why are we now getting not one, but two Black Flag reunions?
Put simply, it's because a lot of people are ready and willing to trade fistfuls of cash to see them again.
Thanks to the Internet, it's now easier than ever before to hunt down punk-rock staples that were once the sole domain of grungy record shops, and the legend of acts like Black Flag has grown considerably in the past 15 years. They're not the only punks flogging the nostalgia circuit, either: Everybody from Negative Approach to Youth of Today has reunited in recent years to cash in with growing audiences. At one time, punk rock didn't pay, but those days are long over.
A few of these tours have been triumphs, but a lot of them have sucked pretty badly. For one thing, a lot of these bands could barely play during the first go-round. It's a sure bet that hundreds of punks will turn out on Monday to find out if Black Flag mk. IX retains any spark of the original, but there are enough failed cash grabs in recent years to give one pause. Here are five of the absolute worst.
5. The Germs Formed in 1977 in the midst of punk rock's original Golden Age, Los Angeles' the Germs were the first American band to push the genre into a harder, more chaotic direction that would soon come to be termed "hardcore" punk. Fronted by the epically wasted singer Darby Crash -- often tabbed as L.A.'s answer to Sid Vicious -- the Germs made a nasty impression on all those who witnessed them, many of whom went out and started their own bands.
After releasing a single, epochal album, GI, in '79, the whole thing ended in perhaps the only way it ever could've. Darby Crash took his own life with a massive dose of heroin, as he'd often promised to do. Guitarist Pat Smear went on to far greater notoriety many years later, playing with Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, and the Germs calcified into a fascinating footnote in punk history.
That footnote was reexamined in 2007, when the film What We Do is Secret was made starring ER hunk Shane West as Crash. To help promote the film (or something), the surviving Germs reformed to play some shows with West on vocals. Then they just sort of... kept at it, serving time on consecutive Warped Tours.
In some ways, the new Germs were truly improved. They weren't completely fucked up on drugs, for one thing, and had learned to play their instruments. But the destructive insanity upon which the Germs had made a name for themselves was long gone, along with the fascinating, self-immolating weirdo who had served as the band's face, voice and mascot. In his place was a Hollywood pretty boy playing a role. Like so many reunions to come, it was a transparent cash-in that had nothing to do with the band's legacy and everything to do with making a little scratch.
4. Dead Kennedys Punk bands don't get much more legendary than San Francisco's Dead Kennedys. Led by a visionary, incendiary dick calling himself Jello Biafra, the DKs made great tunes and toured them all over the country, ingraining an in-your-face DIY ethic into the nascent hardcore movement. In the process, they became the closest thing to "rock stars" that the scene had.
After a brilliant run of recordings and performances between '78 and '86, the band had become disillusioned with what they saw as the spread of hooliganism in hardcore punk. Sadly, they split up amidst interpersonal strife and legal woes. Things would grow nasty after the band won a $220,000 judgement against Biafra in the late '90s over royalties owed by his record label, Alternative Tentacles.
The bad blood seemed to doom any hope of a reunion, especially given Biafra's outspoken disdain for nostalgia. In 2001, former members East Bay Ray, DH Peligro and Klaus Flouride decided to get together without Jello and make a few bucks. Enlisting former Dr. Know singer Brandon Cruz to front the effort, the group started out promoting themselves as the DK Kennedys to avoid potential confusion and legal hassles, but quickly opted to drop that moniker and continue on as the Dead Kennedys, touring the world.
The interest was there and the shows weren't bad, but there can be no Dead Kennedys without Jello Biafra. Every time the band took the stage without him, it served mostly as a disappointing reminder that the DKs couldn't get along anymore, and probably never would again. In his typically biting way, Biafra disparaged the group as "the world's greediest karaoke band," and it's hard to deny his point.
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3. Bad Brains In the late '70s, Washington, D.C.'s Bad Brains arrived out of nowhere like a thunderclap, playing a brand of punk rock that was faster, better and just plain blacker than anything that came before or since. Their gigs were infused by a wild energy that inspired flat-out craziness, famously leading to an unofficial ban on booking the group by the punk-friendly clubs in their hometown.
Despite being seemingly poised to become the biggest, most important American punk band of the '80s, Bad Brains were on too weird of a trip to make it happen. The group turned to Rastafarianism and had a series of ugly run-ins with other influential scene contemporaries -- most notably with Austin's Big Boys, with the Brains apparently hatin' on singer Biscuit's homosexuality and burning the band on a weed deal.
Due mainly to the unpredictability of singer H.R., Bad Brains began breaking up and reforming as early as 1985. Their first reunion in '86 was a triumph, producing the seminal punk/funk/metal hybrid classic I Against I. Subsequent breakups and make-ups were a lot spottier, to put it kindly. The band blew every break it was given as the once-frenetic H.R. descended into apparent mental illness.
The Brains tried out a number of different singers over the years, but fans wouldn't accept Bad Brains without H.R., so they kept bringin' him back. In 2001, I caught the band at Cardi's when they were touring as "Soul Brains" for reasons never fully explained. The crowd was hot for them, but the Brains couldn't deliver. After taking well more than an hour to set up, they had to restart their first tune three times thanks to problems with their own soundboard. The once-electric H.R. stood stock still and whispered into the mike. It was embarrassing and sad, particularly in comparison to their legendary shows of yore.
2. The Misfits Despite achieving a rather wide influence over modern punk and heavy metal, the Misfits never achieved much success during their initial run between 1977-83. They were a little too weird even for punk: muscle-bound dudes dressed in spikes and Halloween makeup who played a spooky, psychotic version of late-'50s-style rock and roll. The New Jersey foursome, with its revolving cast of guitarists and drummers, sounded nothing like the hardcore punk coming out of neighboring New York, achieving instead a more timeless look and style over the course of a zillion singles.
Egos were always a bit of a problem within the band, and by '83, singer-songwriter Glenn Danzig and founding bassist Jerry Only could no longer agree on a musical direction. Danzig disbanded the group and went on to greater fame with his namesake band; Only and his brother Doyle tried their hands at cheesy metal with the short-lived act Kryst the Conquerer.
After high-profile bands like Metallica began covering Misfits songs and raising the group's profile years later, Only began to see dollar signs. In 1995, the bassist won the right to tour and record as the Misfits and "reformed" the group with singer Michael Graves replacing Danzig.
Put simply, it wasn't very punk. The new group sounded a lot more like Kryst than it did the classic Misfits, leaving many fans feeling jaded and insulted by the whole thing. Still, enough interest remains that Only continues touring to this day, having taken over vocal duties and enlisted former Black Flag front man Dez Cadena on guitar.
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1. Sex Pistols The first true punk band, a major part of the Sex Pistols' legend is that the band flamed out in spectacular fashion, collapsing in on itself in the midst of a purposefully inflammatory 1978 tour of Deep South juke joints engineered by the band's diabolical genius of a manager, Malcolm McLaren.
Following the death of bassist/mascot Sid Vicious, it appeared for many years as if the Pistols were permanently done, and most fans were satisfied with that. In 1996, however, the band decided that its legacy was to valuable to go unused. They reunited with original bassist Glen Matlock and embarked on a high-profile world tour.
The consummate punks made little effort to hide the fact that the trek was being done solely for the money, dubbing it the Filthy Lucre Tour. It was a sad sight indeed, witnessing the now-aged band become the rock dinosaurs they had once set out to humiliate and destroy.
The group has reunited a small handful of times since for high-profile gigs tinged with no small amount of cynicism. Even more embarrassingly, Fragrance and Beauty Limited released an authorized Sex Pistols perfume in 2010. Retch.
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