Black Flag - Club Red, Tempe - 7/11/13

Black Flag Club Red Thursday, July 11, 2013

The idea of Black Flag coming to town works in principle. Seeing the remnants of an iconic punk band that hasn't performed in Phoenix in decades sounds good in theory, but the reality is that Black Flag has gone through so many lineup changes that seeing the band is a bit of a gamble, especially when the ticket prices are high.

That didn't stop fans from piling into Club Red on a weeknight to see one of the currently touring Black Flag reunions, this one featuring the band's sole consistent member, Greg Ginn, on guitar with Ron Reyes on vocals.

The theremin is not a punk rock instrument. Having a punk musician who's been in the industry for over three decades play a theremin in one of the world's most iconic punk bands is a pretty bold move. One could argue that it's the punkest thing Greg Ginn could have done last night, alongside his drummer, who lay on the floor and kicked his feet in the air to stretch before Good for You's set. But who am I to say what is or isn't punk rock? Henry Rollins' long hair, shorts, and neurotic stage presence confused the hell out of people at first but helped redefine the rules.

But after 30-some years, there's no reinventing the wheel of punk music. The genre still has its weird twists and turns, spawning strange subgenres that bands like Attack! Attack! belong to, but the ethos is still there, for the most part. Even though Thursday night's band played a slew of Black Flag songs, and half-consisted of original members, it didn't quite feel like a true Black Flag show. The band released the entirety of its albums before I was born, but after seeing FLAG, the other Black Flag reunion act at Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas a couple months ago, Greg Ginn's lineup fell short by a wide margin.

My biases are clear, but I tried to make the most of the show regardless. I bounced ideas off a friend who'd bought a $40 ticket without hesitation simply because he could say he's had the experience of seeing Black Flag. He said it was worth it just for that, but when asked if he would pay the same amount to see them again, he hesitated. He said a better venue and lower ticket prices would help, but otherwise he had a pretty good time.

By the looks of things, a decent chunk of the crowd had a good time, too. The circle pit got fairly large during "Six Pack," even if it quickly lost momentum -- though it was a weeknight, and I'm sure most fans had to get up early for work today. Fists were thrown in the air at key moments, though some of the band's most iconic work fell flat. Musically, Black Flag sounded okay for the most part. A tempo was off here and there, but the main issue is that Ron Reyes is not Keith Morris, Henry Rollins, or Dez Cadena.

Black Flag had a revolving door of a lineup for its entire existence, so there really is no such thing as a singer who defined the band's sound. Some love to argue Rollins, while others favor Morris, which is the beauty of listening to Black Flag records. There's a noticeable progression from record to record, and songs like "TV Party" work best when everyone jumps in. Any Black Flag reunion is bound to sound like a tribute band at times, which makes authenticity and stage presence crucial.

Ron Reyes was entertaining enough to watch. He interacted well with the crowd and stuck around to meet fans after the show, but he didn't really do anything to make the show stick out. Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, and Dez Cadena have a presence that can't be matched -- one that sticks around for months.

Reyes seemed to lack enthusiasm. Fan favorites like "Wasted" and "Gimme Gimme Gimme" fell flat, and the sentiments seemed to get worse as the show progressed. The opening guitar riff of "Rise Above" sounded like a high school tribute band was playing it, as Reyes emotionlessly got through the lyrics.

The show also included songs that were unnecessarily long, such as the band's new single, "Down in the Dirt." The song includes a prolonged instrumental break with lots of theremin, a trick that worked better for opening act, Good for You, which had the exact same lineup as Black Flag, with pro skater Mike Vallely on vocals instead of Ron Reyes.

Both bands had a lengthy jam session upon taking the stage that sounded nothing like Black Flag or punk, in general. It seemed like a waste of time when Black Flag could have quickly played a song such as "Wasted" or "Fix Me" to get things going.

After being blown away by FLAG's performance, Black Flag was lackluster by comparison. Last night's show lacked energy and felt more like The Misfits' desperate attempts to keep touring, even though the majority of the band has been replaced. I'm sure it was nice for fans to see some version of Black Flag for the first time, but if you didn't make it to last night's show, I say you're better off waiting for FLAG to come to town. Check out page three for more photos, a video, the setlist, and the critic's notebook.

Critic's Notebook: Last Night: Black Flag at Club Red. Personal Bias: I considered wearing my FLAG or "What Would Henry Rollins Do?" shirts, but it seemed like a dick move. The Crowd: Surprisingly diverse, though there were quite a few 30-something guys in Black Flag T-shirts. Overheard in the Crowd: "Ginn looks like he has Parkinsons or something." Better Than: I wanted to say Sharknado, but that at least looks like it has a "so bad it's good" quality that last night's show lacked.

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Melissa Fossum
Contact: Melissa Fossum