NXNE review: Flag @ Opera House, June 14, 2013

Flag play classic Black Flag songs to Toronto fans

Former Black Flag members (reformed as Flag) performed the music of Flag at the Opera House on June 14 as part of North by Northeast.

Former Black Flag members and Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton (reformed as Flag) performed the music of Black Flag at the Opera House on June 14 as part of North by Northeast. (Photo: Tom Beedham)

Keith and Chuck and Bill and Dez and Stephen. It took me a long time to get to calling this lineup Flag, and not the name of the members’ former band. I’m not alone either. When they played at Toronto’s Opera House on June 14, even opening act Genetic Control singer Mike Price had to correct himself after calling them Black Flag onstage.

By membership alone, Flag consists of double the original members the new Black Flag lineup boasts (Flag’s only member without previous Black Flag credentials is Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton). But the cropped title makes sense. Some of the members have been away from the songs for over 30 years and even left before most of the group proper’s back catalog had life breathed into them, and Keith Morris has made it clear that Flag won’t be penning any new material.

It’s not a Black Flag cover band, per se, but it’s not Greg Ginn’s insistently progressive recording outfit, either. The latter is a position Greg Ginn is latching onto with the group with whom he’s presently touring around the world and recording a new album under the “official” Black Flag banner. It consists of early Black Flag vocalist Ron Reyes as well as drummer Gregory Moore – who played with Black Flag for some reunion performances in 2003 – and bassist Dave Klein of Screeching Weasel. They’ve already released some new material, which sort of sounds like what you’d get if Greg Ginn and the Royal We grabbed Ron Reyes – a great Black Flag short distance vocalist – to sing over some longer, sludgier, Family Man-esque instrumentals.

As an aspiring Black Flag completest who never got to see any of the band’s pre-breakup lineups live (I was born in 1988) and has a genuine love for the songs, I’d love to get the chance to see the Reyes-and-Ginn-steered band, but Flag’s performance at the Opera House had all the intensity of the classic Black Flag concert footage viewable in documentaries like Penelope Spheeris’s first installment of The Decline of Western Civilization and Paul Rachman’s American Hardcore – as well as the countless snippets of fan footage available online – without the pretension of Greg Ginn.

For the majority of the show, the members stuck to what they knew from their personal experiences with the band.

Whether or not they were intended as a jab at Ginn’s new band and his long-bemoaned history of failure to pay out royalties to where they have been due, the group kicked off the set with “Revenge,” with Keith Morris fronting the act (on that note, they didn’t play “You Bet We’ve Got Something Against You!” – perhaps just because it’s a Ron Reyes song).

Morris also sang “Police Story,” “I Don’t Care,” “Depression,” “No Values,” “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie,” “Clocked In” and “White Minority” (songs Black Flag had recorded with the singer, originally intended for inclusion on their first release before he quit in 1979, resulting in the group re-recording most of them with Reyes for Jealous Again­ ­and eventually Henry Rollins for Damaged).

When one fan interrupted Morris with the bait that he should “Shut up and die” while the singer was in the middle of relating how “White Minority” has been historically misunderstood and how that’s brought flak to the members of the band in their private lives was also an easy reminder of so many Black Flag versus fans stage confrontations (it was also a moment that recalled Morris’s new band OFF!’s opening performance at a 2012 Refused reunion concert at the Sound Academy, where Morris’s mid-set ramblings on the comparisons of the United States and Canadian governments were greeted with some impatient rejection).

The singer also performed lead vocals on all of the tracks off of the Nervous Breakdown EP, as well as the inadmissible “My War” and “Rise Above” – Damaged-era anthems famously sung by Rollins.

For the latter half of the set, Dez Cadena put down his guitar to take over the mic for the Six Pack EP’s title track and “American Waste,” as well as Damaged tracks “Padded Cell,” “Spray Paint,” and “Thirsty And Miserable” – all for which Cadena once recorded a nearly complete version of vocals before the group acquired Rollins as a lead vocalist and re-recorded them.

This all happened in front of fans young and old yelling the words and manifesting the physicality of the music in always-active mosh pit.

After taking a brief break between their set and an encore, the group returned to thank everyone for showing their support. Morris delivered a fittingly slotted Rollins-era “I Love You,” Cadena sang “Damaged,” and the show was over.

If you missed the show or just want to relive the celebration, one fan managed to record the entire set and publish it on YouTube. Check it out before Greg Ginn escalates his Greg Ginn-ness and actively tries to deny credit being offered to the unofficial Black Flag-ers.

(Full setlist compiled below video) 

Setlist
“Revenge”
“Fix Me”
“Police Story”
“I Don’t Care”
“Depression”
“I’ve Had It”
“No Values”
“My War”
“No More”
“Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie”
“White Minority”
“Jealous Again”
“Wasted”
“Clocked In”
“Nervous Breakdown”
“American Waste” (Dez Vox)
“Spray Paint”
“Thirsty And Miserable”
“Padded Cell”
“Six Pack”
“Rise Above” (Keith)
“Loiuie Louie”
Encore
“I Love You”
“Damaged”

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