I went to see the recently reunited Black Flag by myself last night. Absolutely no one would go with me.
Why I Went: Mostly schadenfreude. Seeing the sad husk of a truly iconic and formerly dangerous band performing in a half-empty club thirty years too late seemed like a tragicomic spectacle that I absolutely should not miss. I am totally the target demographic for that sort of thing. Of course, if Black Flag actually mattered to me, I would not have been able to go, as it would have been far too depressing. Fortunately, they do not (I always thought The Misfits were way better). Also, it is crucial to note that this incarnation of Black Flag only contains founder Greg Ginn, some dude that only sang on one EP (Ron Reyes), and two hired guns. The other former band members either: 1.) wanted absolutely nothing at all to do with either Ginn or a reunion, or 2.) wanted absolutely nothing at all to do with Ginn, but formed a separate Black Flag reunion called Flag. The two Black Flags hate each other, of course. To his everlasting credit, Henry Rollins has absolutely nothing to do with either.
Another one of my motivations is the fact that I am not a complete asshole: Greg Ginn did more than almost anybody to make the cultural wasteland of the ’80s bearable. Aside from being the sole consistent driving force behind Black Flag, he ran SST records, early home to Sonic Youth, Husker Du, The Descendants, and Dinosaur, Jr. Some of those albums meant quite a lot to me. Consequently, if he is playing a fucking show in walking distance of my apartment, I have a moral obligation to attend.
Also, I like that someone is trying to book cool shows in my town, even if they are for bands that are no longer even remotely relevant (Agnostic Front is playing tonight, the Murder Junkies are coming in two weeks). It’d be neat to live somewhere with a thriving counterculture again, even if it is one that I find kind of stupid. I’ll take anything at this point.
The Show: Since the doors allegedly opened at 7pm, I deliberately left my house around 7:20 in hopes of arriving late enough to miss as much of the opening band (Good For You) as possible. Also, I took a purposely circuitous route to ensure that it would take me at least an hour to get there. During my lengthy walk, it occurred to me that it would be hilarious to show up at the gig with a fresh, still-bloody Black Flag tattoo and gush to the faceless new bass player that I have been his biggest fan for more than 30 years.
I arrived at the show sometime after 8, but it regrettably hadn’t started yet. There were very few people there, so I was able easily stake out a prime spot along the wall near the stage. I then spent the next 20 minutes watching a scattering of lonely, misshapen weirdos playing with their cell phones. One such weirdo took a spot next to me and began writing in a notebook, causing me to think he was a journalist of some kind. Unfortunately, he kept assuming postures very similar to mine, which made me very self-conscious. I decided to crouch to elude this absurd situation, but eventually my legs hurt, so I had to back stand up again. Then I’d have to crouch again. This loop continued to replay itself for a hilariously long time.
Eventually, Good For You took the stage and proceeded to suck spectacularly. I think they might be the single worst band that I have ever seen. I know that might sound like hyperbole, but it absolutely is not. For example, their first song was basically a boring, interminable jam with the singer shouting “FUCKED UP!” over and over again. Then they reprised that gem in its entirety at the end of their set with some additional lyrics added to provide more meaningful context (“This town is….FUCKED UP! Everything is….FUCKED UP!”). And we were urged to go “totally buckwild” for it, the sad desperation of which always makes me feel deeply embarrassed for the performer.
Curiously, Good For You shares three members with Black Flag. Despite that, they still somehow looked and sounded like a bunch of guys from the office who started a jam-heavy grunge band with their pot dealer. The singer, who looked like a cross between Jesus and one of the Spin Doctors, was by far the worst offender. I absolutely could not believe the retarded shit that came out of his mouth, nor could I reconcile it with the intensity with which it was conveyed. Every single song contained at least one howlingly bad line, but I think my favorite moment was probably when he repeatedly sang that he was “as free as the wind” with his eyes closed and his hands raised heavenward. His banter was also pretty spectacular. This was the nadir:
“Hey, you guys ever seen those bumper stickers that say “Humpty-Dumpty was pushed?” Well, maybe he was, man. But what I really want to know is: what was he doing up there in the first place?”
Try as I might, I could not wrap my mind around why their abysmal fiasco was occurring. I mean, Greg Ginn must realize that his band is terrible, right? And that absolutely no one wants to hear him jamming out on some blues licks or making crazy noises with his theremin (yes, he had a fucking theremin). Also, while I can understand why the bassist and drummer were involved (being in Good For You seems to be the price they have to pay to also be in Black Flag), I could not understand the singer’s motivation at all. This was his only band. He did not need to be doing this. I felt an intense need to convey that to him, but ultimately opted not to as I do not have a good heckllng voice (“You, sir, are utterly bereft of both dignity and self-awareness! Also, can you guys play ‘TV Party’ later?”). Impotent rage is one of the worst feelings in the world.
In other news, The Journalist went utterly bonkers for Good For You, putting away his notebook and thrashing his head around like a maniac. I think they must’ve been his favorite band, as he was nowhere to be seen after their set ended. Very perplexing. In fact, he was the only person who displayed any genuine enthusiasm for them at all, though there was one hilarious teenage girl who repeatedly attempted to start an ironic circle pit.
After they concluded, the pit thinned-out and I resumed my lonely vigil along the wall. After a few minutes, a cool-looking girl took a spot next to me and I spent a few minutes trying to figure out if I had seen her before and where, as it was very jarring to see anyone who seemed like a smart, hip adult in this milieu. Fortunately, the riddle was soon solved, as she was joined by her husband, a fellow that I have never actually met, but who historically seems to intensely dislike me.
Then another woman came over and immediately started talking to me about what I thought the pit would be like and how she just moved here from Boston, where she used to go to cool shows all the time. She then started grilling me about what I thought of Black Flag and a number of other bands, which totally caught me off-guard. I had a difficult time answering most of her questions, as any genuinely honest responses from me would have probably come across as pretty dickish and/or elitist (presumably because I am actually a dickish elitist). Thankfully, she quickly lost interest in me and wandered off once I admitted that I did not like The Dead Kennedys or The Circle Jerks at all (“what are you even doing here?!?”). The only conclusion that I can draw from this exchange is that I am sexy enough to effortlessly and unwittingly lure strange women to me, but that I am such a spectacular fucking poser that no one could ever actually enjoy my company for longer than a few minutes.
Black Flag took the stage. They predictably launched into a Black Flag song.
Cool-Looking Girl is apparently a huge fan, as she immediately plunged into the center of the pit and started pumping her fist and shouting along. It was pretty amusing to watch, as every single other person around her was a young, meat-headed dude. Her husband, for his part, stayed leaning against the wall with a somewhat bemused, world-weary expression on his face. I empathized completely. He felt like a kindred spirit. Also, he periodically glanced over to make sure she wasn’t getting mauled or crushed, which I found weirdly endearing. I resolved to consider despising him less in the future.
Black Flag played more Black Flag songs.
My attention wandered, but then stopped at a dude standing nearby who was comically sporting full street-punk regalia: liberty spikes, suspenders, a metal-studded denim vest, and lots of patches for dumb bands. Unfortunately, his carefully constructed image was marred by the fact that he was standing stock-still, wearing a bright red backpack, and taking pictures with his phone. I couldn’t stop watching him, as he seemed like a hilarious paradox to me. Then, roughly halfway through the set, he abruptly put his phone in his backpack, took off his vest, and took off his shirt, making me think shit was about to kick off big-time in the pit. But then he just put his vest back on again, sans shirt, and resumed standing there like a boring jerk for the rest of the set.
Black Flag played some more songs. They closed with “Louie, Louie” and it was boring, but the performance ended on an amusingly positive note, as Ron Reyes urged us all to go out and buy theremins and start our own punk rock bands. That made me like him.
As I walked home listening to my faggy poser music (Wrekmeister Harmonies, in this case), it occurred to me that (as always) there was a Smiths’ lyric that poetically and melodramatically captured my experience perfectly:
“There’s a club if you’d like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry
And you want to die”
Of course, I didn’t actually cry and want to die when I got home (there are many significant differences between me and young Morrissey), but I did wonder why I bothered leaving my house at all when there are plenty of enticingly weird books and a reasonable amount of vodka sitting there. I guess I am not ready to entirely give up on the outside world just yet. Of course, yet another possibility is that I am just a gullible idiot that never learns from his mistakes. It’s very hard to say at this point, but I vow to keep monitoring the situation.
Feelings of Deep Alienation from My Fellow Concert Attendees: 7/10
Wistful Longing for the Naivete of My Youth: 6/10
Melancholy Awareness of the Ephemeral Nature of Seemingly Important Culture: 8/10
Disappointment of Random Women: 10/10
Acute Sensation of Having Squandered A Perfectly Good Evening: 7/10
Total Score: 7.6/10
(Note: I looked up Good For You after the show was startled to discover that their singer is actually a pretty famous pro skateboarder. However, he also acted in Paul Blart: Mall Cop, appeared in a Limp Bizkit video, and briefly played pro hockey, where some dude beat him up so badly in his first game that he wound up with a broken arm.)