A couple dozen black-clad kids are moping around outside Tempe's Asylum nightclub. It's a full five or six hours before the Rollins Band show is scheduled to start, but apparently these punks want to stake out their slamming space early. Of course, it isn't the Rollins Band these teens are so eager to see. Most are here to check out what's left of the legendary hard-core act Black Flag--i.e., lead singer Henry Rollins. In fact, some are even wearing faded Black Flag tee shirts, although none of these tykes looks old enough to have witnessed one of the band's gigs.
In a preshow interview last Wednesday, Rollins acknowledges that there are those who come to see his new band only because of his illustrious history with Black Flag--a group many consider to be the godfathers of hard-core. But Rollins himself isn't one to look back. "You have no idea how far I am from that world," he says of his BF period. "I really have nothing to say about that band."
Try as he might, though, Rollins can't seem to shake the specter of Black Flag. His bandmates might be different now. He may be screaming some new songs. He may even be sporting a radical new Marine buzz cut. But everything else about Rollins and his music remains unchanged from the Black Flag days of yore.
WHEN ROLLINS TAKES the stage at Asylum, a few longtime Black Flag fans in the audience have to laugh. The singer is dressed in the same black boxer shorts that he wore during his previous band's shows at Valley punk halls nearly a decade ago. Of course, a nearly buff body is all the better to show off his collection of tattoos. He seems particularly proud of the SEARCH AND DESTROY motto emblazoned on his back, which fits right in with his new pseudo-military image.
Before he has a chance to open his mouth, a few yahoos in the crowd yell "Flex it!" and "Drop your pants!" The heckles fire Rollins up, and he lunges like a python at the audience. Only those concertgoers who never attended a Black Flag show can see this stuff as anything but well-rehearsed schtick.
The sweat-blood-and-spilled-beer pandemonium of Black Flag shows is light-years removed from the MD120 Col 1, Depth P54.10 I9.14 relatively chaos-free atmosphere at Asylum. Audiences are probably safer at a Rollins Band gig these days than they are venturing into the crush of frenzied fourteen-year-old girls at a New Kids on the Block show.
This is especially true now that Rollins has instituted a ban on stage-diving at his gigs. He also insists that several burly security guards be stationed around the stage to keep overzealous slammers in line. "It has to do with young girls getting their arms broken and people getting their eyes physically ripped out of their heads by people's shoes," explains Rollins. "Besides, you can't really play all that hard with a guy smacking you in the balls."
Other than those precautions, Rollins hasn't really toned down his act. He still stalks the stage like a less graceful Iggy Pop. And he can still squall with the fury of a young punk, expelling wads of spit with every other line.
But there's something about the thirty-year-old Rollins screaming about teenage alienation that just doesn't work. Black Flag may have been the voice of disillusioned youth in the early Eighties, but just how long can the singer go on playing the tortured young punk?
To be fair, he has matured musically. The Rollins Band's new LP Turned On features raging, unrelenting rhythms tempered by jazz-inflected bass and unique time changes. The songs manage to offer sonic variations on punk without sacrificing any of the immediacy or punch.
But lyrically, the new album finds Rollins in a holding pattern. With song after song of utterly predictable angst, the singer is incapable of delivering a line like "I've got a heart that hates" without sounding rote. Even tracks like "Out There" that have interesting things going on musically are dragged down by Rollins' dark poetic spasms.
"Out There"--while listenable on vinyl--is dragged out interminably at the Asylum show, going on for what seems like fifteen minutes. Several other tracks are equally tedious, and in fact, there's little relief from the monotonous, humorless mood of the show until nearly the very end. Then Rollins manages to sum up the spirit of the show with one unintentionally funny lyric: "It seems like I'm doing the same thing over and over again."
At least the guy's on to himself.
It isn't the Rollins Band these teens are so eager to see. Most are here to check out what's left of the legendary Black Flag--i.e. lead singer Henry Rollins.
Audiences are probably safer at a Rollins Band gig than they are venturing into the crush of frenzied fourteen-year-old girls at a New Kids on the Block show.