Keith Morris opened FLAG's September 18 show at the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia with a disclaimer: "First of all, we're FLAG. We are not Black Flag or affiliated with any of those other organizations." The band then broke into an absolutely explosive version of "Revenge." Who knows if the juxtaposition was intentional or random, but the result was clear: FLAG are peerless.
As with previous dates, the band stormed though a set of classics from the First Four Years and Damaged with "My War" slipped in for good measure. Although the show was in the later period of FLAG's tour, as with their dynamite early Cleveland show, the band started at level 10 energy and stayed there for the whole show. Keith Morris was as volatile as ever, spitting out barbed lyrics with his fabulously hooked voice and stopping a few times to deliver those classic Morris monologues. Dukowski demonstrated that he was (one of) Black Flag's magic ingredients. As he whipped his body around the stage, looking possessed, he slammed out bass lines that were heavy as Geezer Butler's, but sharp and quick as James Williamson's. Bill Stevenson drove the band forward with hard-hitting, but quick drum beats that made a pretty good argument that he was Black Flag's best drummer.
Interestingly, no longer was guitarist Stephen Egerton an object of scrutiny. When the tour started the question was, "Can Stephen Egerton possibly play the guitar lines of one of punk's true, bonafide geniuses?" But, since then, he's proven himself time and time again. Egerton's guitar lines were somewhat louder and harder than Ginn's jittering, slicing style, but like Ginn, Egerton knew the key to Black Flag's music was positioning, timing, and space. Masterfully, he would pause, allowing a lull to enter the music, before exploding outward, causing a calculated cacophonic rampage before suddenly darting away again.
Of course, one of the show's highlights was the interplay between Morris and Dez Cadena. When Cadena did take the mic, for about six songs, his revealed how far Black Flag songs can be stretched–where Morris was the court jester gone sadistic, Cadena was an onslaught of aggression. But quite marvelously, both vocalists remembered to keep a certain style in their delivery. FLAG might be playing hardcore music, but there is so much more to the band than just that.
By now, the tour is over and who knows if FLAG will ever play shows again. But, the positive is this. When the greatest bands were actually playing, they weren't always popular or appreciated for their true genius. Often when musicians die, their corpses are heaped with praise–but, what good is that? Quite perfectly, FLAG were able to receive their due while they were able to appreciate it, and even better–the band were ABSOLUTELY PHENOMENAL. There's a reason these guys are so revered; it's because they deserve every ounce of praised heaped upon them, as demonstrated though this tour. Magnificent. Without question, one of the greatest live performances ever. If you missed it, you missed out.
-Dear FLAG, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE release a live album
-At this point, if Ron Reyes joined FLAG, I'd be down
-Also, be sure to check out these guys' other current projects, each which have released some really great records in the past few years- OFF!, Chuck Dukowski Sextet, (less recently) Descendents, the Last, and Dez Cadena and the Superbas.
-You can try to be jaded and hate on this, but that's just sad. This was totally awesome and I wish each of you were there to enjoy this with me.
-One of Johnny G's top five shows ever, for sure.