Black Flag and Good for You Walters Downtown August 26, 2013
News that hardcore punk legends Black Flag were heading through Walters on their current tour of the U.S. and Australia inspired no small amount of excitement around these parts. After all, the band hasn't played Houston (or much of anywhere, really) since at least the mid-'80s. But it inspired a lot of questions, too.
Namely, why now? Was guitarist Greg Ginn getting the band back together (or some new-fangled version of it, anyway) just to show up Keith Morris' competing troupe, FLAG? Where, exactly, did he dig up long-lost singer Ron Reyes, and who were the new guys in the rhythm section? Were they in any condition to do proper justice to the angst-riddled anthems that once caused audiences to degenerate into violent mayhem?
Unsurprisingly, a lot of people wanted to see those questions answered live and in person on Monday night. Weeknight or no, Walters was as crowded as it's perhaps ever been, with several generations of punkers showing up ready to see if this new Black Flag was worthy of name.
Early indications were a mite troubling. Barricades surrounded the Walters stage, with signs posted warning that any would-be stage divers would be summarily tossed out of the club. Photos were similarly discouraged, for whatever reason. Perhaps this wouldn't be the wild free-for-all that many were hoping for.
Still, anticipation for the mighty Flag quickly filled up the room like a flammable gas, just waiting to be ignited by Ginn's trademark feedback. Before that explosive mixture of excitement and expectations could be touched off, however, the crowd would have to weather the openers: Ginn's new project, Good for You.
Instrumentally, Good for You features the same members as the 2013 Black Flag: Ginn, ex-Gone drummer Gregory Moore and bassist Dave Klein. The band's singer is longtime pro skateboarder Make Vallely, who fronted the Flag on Ginn's original string of reunion dates back in 2003.
It's probably no surprise, then, that Good for You sounds more like Black Flag than anything else Ginn has busied himself with since the band's breakup more than 25 years ago. The audience's arms may have been folded skeptically, but ears certainly pricked up when Ginn flipped the switch on his guitar, sending a piercing burst of that inimitable feedback through the room.
Though it's undoubtedly the last thing Ginn would want, it was impossible not to be reminded of ex-Black Flag singer Henry Rollins when Vallely opened his mouth. The vocalist's phrasing and delivery are obviously indebted to ol' Hank, if not outright cribbed from him. Accordingly, Vallely's voice proved a good fit for Good for You's bluesy, stomping brand of proto-grunge, which reminded very much of Flag's latter-day catalogue.
Though the audience seemed mostly attentive and engaged, impatiently thrashing along to Good for You's scattered snippets of upbeat punk, the band was more interested in pummeling than provoking. Their lengthy, punishing set mostly served to whet the crowd's appetite even further for the group most of the assemblage had for decades been hoping against hope would reunite once more.
After a long break between acts, Ginn and company returned to the stage for an extended vamp that included some nifty Theremin wailing from the guitarist. Finally, Reyes appeared front and center, and the band lit into the incendiary classic "Revenge."
"It's not my imagination!" Reyes howled. "I've got a gun on my back!"
A big mosh pit blew up immediately as punks young and old bounced off one another joyously. The distressed sounds bleeding out of Ginn's amplifier cabinets immediately erased all doubts: Barricades or no, this really was Black Flag, back from the dead at last and ready to reclaim their old turf.
The band didn't bother to play it coy with their back catalogue. They rolled out the good stuff from each of the band's distinct stylistic periods, from late-'70s gems like "Nervous Breakdown" to later, more plodding cuts like the furious "Can't Decide."
The old tunes were performed a bit slower and with a more metallic edge than the original recordings, but it worked. Black Flag's rock-solid rhythm section bashed away behind Ginn's unmistakable guitar solos while the bandleader lolled his head back and forth to the music, eyes firmly shut. Reyes, for his part, proved that he could still go, belting out each song with energy and enthusiasm.
For longtime fans, it was great to see. There's something about Ginn's shattered guitar tone that manages to get inside of your skin and crawl around in your belly, leading inevitably to clenched teeth and balled fists. Makes you feel tense and strong.
The largely veteran crowd stayed mostly polite, save for one brief dancefloor beatdown. But the moshing was intense during a destructive run of songs in the middle of the set that included "Black Coffee," "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme" and "Police Story." Looking around at all the faces amid the sweaty havoc, it was pretty clear that no one felt cheated by this reunion.
There were a couple of new cuts mixed in there, too. The heavy, grinding "Down in the Dirt," released just weeks ago, offered up a lengthy Ginn solo with Theremin. While it didn't send anyone rushing over to the merch table, it stood comfortably among the classics.
By the time they finished us off with their sing-along closer, "Louie, Louie," there were no more questions to be answered. Though there's certainly no going back to 1981, this new thing being called Black Flag had proven itself a worthy continuation of the band's legacy, whether we wanted it or not.
"Try to stop us, but it's no use!" shrieked Reyes during the song "Rise Above."
On Monday, those words never felt truer.
Personal Bias: No Flag tats.
The Crowd: Extremely ready for Black Flag.
Overheard in the Crowd: "You guys are in the bathroom smoking while Black Flag is playing? That makes no sense to me."
Random Notebook Dump: Pity the stagehands straining to hold back the barricades as the crowd surged forward again and again. They're going to be sore today.
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