FLAG, T.S.O.L., Cerbral Ballzy, Off WithTheir Heads
September 13, 2013
After spending a few hours in a sports bar down the street, where my compadres and I drank numerous tallboys and discussed really important stuff like how in retrospect it was actually a good thing that nu-metal happened because it weeded out a lot of dipshits from the ‘90s punk scene, we stumbled our way into Minneapolis’ legendary rock club, First Avenue for a Friday night rock ‘n’ roll show.
We arrived just as the opening band Off With Their Heads was finishing up their set. It didn’t appear that they were garnering much response from the crowd, but that was probably less their fault than it was a booking one. The band usually plays smaller, more intimate stages where there are no barriers between the band the audience. They also suffered from some poor sound quality. Unfortunately there’s not much to note here, other than they looked like most of the people in attendance— male, black tee-shirted, and partially bearded.
Cerebral Ballzy was up next. Despite having a great name, they were completely disappointing and wholly uninspiring skate punk. My notes say, “You can tell they are from New York because the guitar players have Strokes haircuts. Probably rich kids. Probably sons of famous people that work for Vice or Cartoon Network or something. More punk than me though. They have the outfits to prove it. ONE LOVE.” (One love ???) To be fair, like OWTH, they were also the victim poor sound engineering and playing too big a venue. Also, ONE LOVE.
The crowd had nearly doubled in size, as had the amount of drinks I consumed, by the time T.S.O.L. took the stage. Without so much as a hello, they went right into “World War III” from their 1981 eponymous debut EP. Jack Grisham did his trademarked stalking, as he walked briskly back and forth the length of the stage, while the band tore through a set of uninterrupted songs. They played “In My Head” and “Terrible People” from their 2001 reunion album Disappear, before finishing up with another one from the debut EP—“Superficial Love.” Without any enticing whatsoever the audience shouted along to the final line of the song, replacing Ronald Reagan’s name with our current president, “President Obama can shove it!”
It was at this point that Jack took to the mic for some of his characteristic banter; always equal parts punk history, blue collar comedy, and general asshole-ness. He recalled the first time he saw Black Flag in the ‘80s at a place called the Hong Kong Café, as well as memories of FLAG guitarist Stephen Egerton’s old band, Massacre Guys. He then poked fun at FLAG drummer Bill Stevenson. “And look at Bill. Bill is still alive. What a pleasure that is.”
They played “Sounds of Laughter” from the 1981 album, Dance With Me and “Sodomy” from Disappear before Jack stopped again; this time for a cheap pop from the local crowd. He gave a shoutout to Husker Du before saying, “I remember back in the day we slept in Grant Hart’s (Husker Du drummer) mom’s trailer in a trailer park.” He then went on to talk about how that was around the time people started to classify what was punk and what was not, recalling going to a Go-Go’s show when they were punk. I’m not really sure what his message was here though. I got really confused, most likely because of being, you know, drunk. But I wrote down in my notes, “Jack Grisham talking about punk…I’ve seen this documentary a million times before. Which one? ALL OF THEM.”
T.S.O.L. finished with a lengthy set that relied largely on older tunes; pulling a healthy number from Dance With Me, and peppering it here in there with a track from their post ’01 reunited era albums like Divided We Stand. Despite carrying quite a bit of weight on him and having an indestructible hairstyle that rivals that of Conan O’Brien, Jack can still hits his signature haunting notes surprisingly well. At one point they did “Wash Away” from 1982’s Beneath the Shadows, but then I sort of lost track. I know they wrapped up with energetic renditions of “Abolish Government/Silent Majority” and “Code Blue.” I wrote down, “Great for nostalgia reasons, but otherwise, eh. I’m going to go home and watch Suburbia now.” I did not go home and watch Suburbia though because that would have meant missing FLAG.
An anticipatory wave began to roll through the audience, as everyone made last ditch efforts to use the bathrooms, grab drinks, and snatch up available sightlines. By my alcohol-clouded estimation, the room wasn’t completely sold out, as it no doubt would have been had Henry Rollins been a part of it. Say what you will about what the man has become, but he would have considerable drawing power over Keith Morris if he were in the same position. That is not intended as a shot at Morris, whom I am a big fan of, but rather a realistic assumption. I couldn’t help but notice and appreciate the surprising lack of smart phone use amongst the crowd. In a strange way this helped convey an overall feeling the we were about to witness something, let’s say, historical, rather than contemporary.
“We’re not Black Flag. We’re FLAG and we’re going to be doing some Black Flag songs. I want to make that clear.” That’s what FLAG singer Keith Morris said before he and his fellow former members of Black Flag ripped into staples of the Morris era, “Revenge” and “Fix me.” And who could blame him; with a list of past members that’s long enough to fill two NBA team rosters, and another band currently making the rounds, who calls themselves Black Flag, and who’s primary member (Greg Ginn) is currently trying to restrict FLAG’s usage of the four bars and other Black Flag likeliness, it’s not only a general clarificaton, so much as it is a safety precaution. FLAG consists of former prominent member of Black Flag: Keith on vocals, Dez Codena on guitar and vocals, Chuck Dukowski on bass, and Bill Stevenson on drums. They are joined by the latter’s Descendants/ALL band mate, Steven Egerton on guitar.
The first half of the set included songs “Police Story,” "White Minority,” “Wasted” and several others. Despite Keith Morris’ apparent lack of energy (at least in comparison to recent OFF! performances,) most people in the place were gyrating at a feverish pace. The area in front of the stage was a swirling dervish of arms, legs, dirty hair and flung beer. Meanwhile, from my vantage point a few feet back, the only beer being flung was down my throat. Perhaps Morris was under the weather a bit, or at the very least, feeling snarky. At times it looked as though he was mocking Henry Rollins when he sang songs from Damaged.
Dez threw his guitar aside and took over vocals for a rowdy set that included “American Waste,” “Thirsty and Miserable,” “Padded Cell,” and “Spray Paint.” In my notes I wrote, “SPRAY PAINT THE WALLS…but not on a Friday night in Minneapolis because if you get arrested you won’t see the judge until Monday morning.” So, ah, there's that. “Six Pack” may or may not have been in this set. I can’t really remember if Dez sang it or if Keith did, probably because I had drank somewhere in the vicinity of two six packs myself. Hence my note-taking was pretty much done at this point.
I know Keith took back vocal duties for “Rise Above” and everyone went ape-shit bananas. The lead singer of local-ish skate-thrash revivalists Dios Mio managed to pull off a stage dive much to the chagrin of security. At this point at least one person was hauled out of the pit by security with that old arm-twisted-up-behind-your-back-while-another-one-is-around-your-neck move. Then they did “Louie Louie,” which is a pretty ridiculous cover any way you look at it but it was OK because you knew there was no way they would end the show on that note. I remember thinking to myself, “They better not end on ‘Louie Louie’ or we all riot.”
There was no riot because they came back out for two more songs; both of which Dez sang. He introduced “What Can You Believe” by saying, “This next one comes from those 1982 demos that everyone talks about” and then shrugged his shoulders. I don’t know how you shrug your shoulders at that shit. Everyone talks about it because it’s fucking fantastic. Perhaps he was being facetious. They finished out the evening with an awesome rendition of “Damaged II.” It was pretty apparent throughout the entire show, but really hammered home during the last two songs just how important Steven Egerton and Chuck Dukowski’s roles are in FLAG. Dukowski’s dirty “lead bass” paired with Egerton’s mastery of the Greg Ginn style of manic guitar playing really helped transmit as close to an authentic Black Flag experience as you’re going to get these days.
World War III
In My Head
Sounds of Laughter
Dance With Me
Fuck You, Tough Guy
Dance With Me
Abolish Government/Silent Majority
I Don't Care
I've Had It
Gimme Gimme Gimme
Thirsty and Miserable
Louie Louie (Richard Berry cover)
What Can You Believe