In 1979, Black Flag played their first show at Moose Lodge 1873 in Redondo Beach, California. Last night, more than 34 years later, Flag – a group comprised of former members Keith Morris (vocals), Chuck Dukowski (bass), Dez Cadena (guitar/vocals) and Bill Stevenson (drums), with Descendents/All guitarist Stephen Egerton – played the same venue to an invite-only crowd of less than 200 people.
Playing without a stage on a rented P.A., with moose antlers as a backdrop, the quintet opened with “Revenge,” which found the dreadlocked singer whispering the opening line, “It’s not my imagination,” before screaming the follow-up, “I’ve got a gun at my back.” From there, Egerton assaulted his clear Dan Armstrong guitar throughout the punishing B chord intro.
Without a pause, the group dove into “Fix Me” and then “Police Story.” Before N.W.A.‘s “Fuck tha Police” or Body Count’s “Cop Killer,” there was “Police Story.” Penned by Black Flag founder-guitarist-songwriter Greg Ginn (whose own version of latter-day Black Flag begins a world tour in May), the song is a direct attack on authority thanks to the opening lines, “This fucking city/Is run by pigs/They’re taking the rights away from/All the kids.” The two-minute song produced a slew of middle fingers as Morris passed the microphone to an already-sweaty crowd.
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The audience sang along for the first three songs, but it wasn’t until Stevenson played the intro to “I Don’t Care” that the swaying movement of the crowd got hectic. This tame beginning might have been attributed to the fact that the crowd comprised friends and family of the band. Once the novelty of seeing Flag at a Moose Lodge in a suburban beach community wore off, people began to push, crowd-surf and run in circles for tunes such as “Depression,” “I’ve Had It” and “No Values.”
Black Flag’s fourth vocalist, Henry Rollins, sang the Dukowski-written “My War” on the group’s 1984 full-length record of the same name. Last night, however, it was Morris’ turn to scream “My war/You’re one of them you say/That you’re my friend/But you’re one of them.” The Morris-led version of “My War” was more than just a novelty for Black Flag fans, as the powerful rendition was on par with Rollins’ take.
Morris then sang Dukowski’s “No More” – another track he never recorded with Black Flag – and once again sounded as if he had been performing it for three decades. The song began with the bassist hitting a G note while Stevenson’s pounding drums created a volcano ready to explode. By the time Cadena and Egerton screeched their way into the tune, the rhythm section had built a sonic tension that served as the ideal template for Morris to wail, “No, I won’t believe that this is all/I’m not happy/I’m not free.”
From there, the band burned their way through “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” “White Minority” (which Morris explained has nothing to do with the KKK), “Jealous Again,” “Wasted,” “Clocked In” and “Nervous Breakdown,” before Cadena – Black Flag’s third singer (and onetime rhythm guitarist) – took over on vocals. The long-haired singer’s raspy howl created a blueprint for hardcore when he became Black Flag’s singer in 1980. These days, however, Cadena’s guttural screams are long gone, with the frontman preferring a more relaxed approach to songs such as “American Waste,” “Thirsty and Miserable” and “Six Pack.” That said, Cadena still sounded good – he just didn’t sound like a pissed-off teenager anymore.
Morris returned to the microphone for “Rise Above,” then let Cadena finish the 20-song set with his rendition of “Louie Louie.”
Though you can’t have Black Flag without Ginn, Flag’s take on music written by the guitarist and Dukowski proves that the ferocity of the songs continues to resonate.