Black Flag / Greg Ginn / Cinema Cinema

Black Flag / Greg Ginn / Cinema Cinema: Live in PhiladelphiaLive in Philadelphia (2014)
live show

Reviewer Rating: 2.5

Contributed by: JohnGentileJohnGentile
(others by this writer | submit your own)

It didn't have to be this way, man. It didn't have to be this way. You'd be hard pressed find a band as mired in controversy, preconceived notions, and squabbling as Black Flag 2014. The saddest part is that all of it could have been avoided so easily. If Greg Ginn doesn't want to be in "Black Flag,.

It didn't have to be this way, man. It didn't have to be this way. You'd be hard pressed find a band as mired in controversy, preconceived notions, and squabbling as Black Flag 2014. The saddest part is that all of it could have been avoided so easily. If Greg Ginn doesn't want to be in "Black Flag," he could have gone on the road as The Greg Ginn band, and, oh yeah, we're playing some Black Flag tunes. People would have loved it. If he did want to be Black Flag, he could have given Ron Reyes a fair shot and said, "Oh Flag– We're not doing what they are doing. Come check us out." People would have loved it.

Instead he attacked some of the greatest (and most beloved) punk artists ever, went on stage under rehearsed, and only served to make himself look petty. So, by this point, it's impossible to separate Black Flag 2014 from the past year of combat that it has endured.

Still, despite the fact that Black Flag 2014 features only Ginn from the original band, and almost comically features none of the other three members from 2013's What theā?¦ and 2013's Black Flag tour, it is within the realm of possibility that the latest incarnation of Black Flag could be good. In a interview with Rolling Stone, the band did state that they wanted to address the criticisms of the previous tour.

So, with a brand new rhythm section and former BF roadie and pro–skateboarder Mike V on vocals, the band hit Philadelphia's Union Transfer on June 24, 2014 to prove their mettle. And to their credit, the new formation with Tyler Smith on bass and Brandon Pertzborn on drums was a tighter union. The 2013 tour was plagued by sloppy time keeping and under rehearsed songs, though the severity of those two infractions was probably over stated. Still, Pertzborn was a faster, sharper drummer Gregory Moore (who had been with Ginn for over 10 years) and Smith did an admirable job of supplying Black Flag's famous thundering bass (though, he's no Dukowski, that's for sure.)

Ginn has been accused of not really wanting to play Black Flag songs, but that wasn't apparent at the Philadelphia show. To the contrary, he was as energized as I've ever seen him, snapping out those famously sharp, twisting riffs and achieving that menacing, high–pitched tone that somehow only he can conjure. The harder songs like "Gimme Gimme Gimme" also had more inherent violence, with Ginn really pulling out the sudden screeches and jumpstarts which makes Black Flag songs so unique and so complex.

And then there's Mike V. Generally, it's probably poor sport in music to say X is better than Y. Art usually can't be judged so quantitatively. Yet, since Black Flag 2013 started, Mike V has been begging for comparison, first, bizarrely attacking FLAG and then after Ron Reyes' dismissal, blaming Reyes for the problems that Black Flag endured in 2013. (Side note– Ron Reyes was by FAR the best part of Black Flag 2013 and seemed to be the only guy that gave a damn.)

So with the amount of shit–talking that Mike V has done over the past six months (admittedly as a shill for Ginn) you'd think that he'd take to the stage with vigor, all guns blazing, aiming to knock Morris, Dukowski, and Reyes off their spot (no easy task!). Heā?¦ did not.

The show opened with a classic Ginn, sinister instrumental that exemplified the best aspects of Ginn's skill– twisting riffs with tactically placed breaks. But, while the band was smashing around on stage, Mike V sort of stood on center stage, unsure of how to busy himself. He decided to face the drum kit and shake his mop top at it. In fact, that sort of exemplifies Mike V's stage presence. He seems to think that a stage presence entails only two things– striking the classic Rollins sprinter pose and shaking his mop top at the drum kit while his back faces the audience. In fact, for 95% of the performance, Mike V confined himself to a 3x3 square on stage, making his delivery feel rather static.

Compare this to Reyes' 2013 performance where he was constantly moving about the stage like a panther, sending all his being into the microphone through a series of howls, screams, and snarls. Since Mike V has so desperately demanded comparison (even long after Reyes was dismissed from the band– poor form), here it is: If Reyes and Mike V were on the stage together, Reyes would blow Mike V off the stage, through the crowd, out the venue, and into the street. And against Keith Morris– Straight massacre– not a single dreadlock out of place.

That being said, Mike V isn't terrible. In fact, it's uncanny at how much he replicates Rollins. If you heard a BF cover band with Mike V, you'd say, "Wow, they are pretty good." But, Mike V's one asset, his ability to ape Rollins to the point were he could fool you on CD, is also his greatest disadvantage. Mike V delivers every line with self–seriousness of Slip it In era Hank, but only 50% of the intensity. Live, there is no variation or individuality whatsoever.

The reason BF has no one definitive singer is because each of them put a drastically different spin on their songs, creating radically different versions of many of the same songs. Morris is the manic jester. Reyes is the pissed off beach boy. Dez is the freight train. Henry is the kid gone berserk. But Mike V just copied everything Henry did on the albums, right down to the improv phrasings on "Six Pack," "Damaged II," and "TV Party." The one time Mike V did go off on his own was on "Revenge" and the whole time he seemed to be off time, struggling to catch up to the beat.

Ginn, too, is a puzzle. He genuinely seems to be playing the older songs with enthusiasm, and really, no one can play songs like "Depression" except him. But, he really comes to life on the set's three new songs, at least one of which, is just a "Good for You" song. ("Fucked Up.) As with all recent Ginn projects, the new songs show promise, but little effort. Ginn starts out with a killer, howling riff, but then, instead of evolving the song, just repeats the riff ad infinitum while Mike V tries to find a spot here or there when he can inject vocals like "Meet you half way– I'd rather die!"ā?¦ over and over and over again. The songs might be new, but they sap the set of intensity.

In fact, that was the show's biggest trouble. The classic songs did build intensity, like on "Rise Above" with its storming chorus. But, there were breaks in between each songs, no less than three band introductions, and at least two periods where Ginn left the stage to retrieve beers to distribute to the band. (Also, Mike V who had been ragging on other bands for catching their breath– which I never saw, truthfully– definitely had to take a few breaks where he tried to hide the fact that he was sucking in air). The band played an extended, nearly 100 minute set, and Ginn daringly tried to put in some new instrumental jams. Had they worked, they would have given the live show a new level and made the classics hit that much harder. But, the instrumentals started out interestingly, only to devolve, draining the show more than coloring it. By the end, it was fun, but it was time for the show to be over.

In contrast to the end of BF's sagging energy at the end of the show, the night opened with Cinema Cinema. A two piece guitar and drums act, the band fit in well with the other bands. Sort of a punk–heavy metal merger, Cinema Cinema blasted out avant–garde, but intense, guitar based songs that would flirt with standard structure all before shattering into an experiment in sound, cacophony, and order. Despite their fairly long set for an opening act, they kept their act invigorating, continually shifting to new sonic territories and never doing the same trick twice. It also helped that both members were highly animated, playing their music as much as acting it out. In fact, I was a bit excited by the band's reception. Certainly, they are far outside the general punk domain sonically, but not philosophically. The crowd, which was by far the youngest crowd I've seen in the past few years and honestly, the majority of people watching the show probably weren't old enough to drive, enthusiastically and warmly received Cinema Cinema's daring set. I am sure that had the band played to an older crowd at a modern "punk" show, they would not have been so positively received. Has punk's recent lack of variety and experimentation been lost with the youngest fans, or were they just not old enough yet to "learn the rules–"

Just before Black Flag, Greg Ginn and the Royal We took the stage, and really, it was the best part of the night. Composed of just Greg Ginn and about five machines including a laptop, Theremin, TV, and other gizmos, the band exemplifies the best parts about Ginn. As Ginn pulled out about five extended instrumental pieces, the machines rumbled out electronic music– spacey drums, beeping synths, and goth–ish screeches. Meanwhile, the video screen played vintage video, accompanying or juxtaposing Ginn's trippy music.

The set did make it clear how music just radiates from every pore in Ginn's body. At one point, he was operating a sound machine, playing the Theremin, and his guitar once. With his held tilted back, he seemed to be euphoric as the music flowed from him and into him. People have criticized Ginn's Theremin use but that is ridiculous and small minded. There is certainly no book of rules on what instruments are or are not punk, and the more adventurous a band is the better. The Theremin, which Ginn played with ease, exemplifies all of that.

As the spotlight shined down on Ginn alone on stage (with his machines) a certain question seemed to arise. Ginn almost seems to be a tragic figure. He communicates with machines with such ease, able to convey music with such feeling that people spend lifetimes chasing. Is Ginn so blessed by his gift that it has come at the cost of his ability to interact with humans, or is he a man, that despite being unparalleled, is consumed with so much greed that he must attack anyone else that excels, even at cost to himself– Maybe the fact that his best contemporary work is with machines that have no choice but to agree with him helps answers the question.


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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
lmchc (June 26, 2014)

There's Jerry Only hate out there, but since the Newfits have been a joke for over ten years, nobody talks about them.

Also, very few of those 80s reunion bands put out a new record, and even then, few of them were as bad as "What The..."

TomTrauma (June 26, 2014)

Pretty much every current line-up of an 80's era band is a one man show. Why is GG held to a different standard? Is it because people (who don't even know him) think he's an asshole? If he was the singer, no one would blink. I would argue that the guitar is the defining sound of Black Flag.

The current incarnation of the Misfits is led by the bass player. The BASS PLAYER! If his instrument came unplugged during a song, only half the crowd would notice. Was the bass sound the one that defined the Misfits? Of course not. Where's the Jerry Only hate?

Greg Ginn isn't doing anything different than countless aging punks, cashing in. Black Flag has always been his baby, and he can make a living off of it if he is able. He still has more passion and chops than most. No one would drive 50 miles or pay $22 to see the The Greg Ginn Experience. Don't let your (unfounded) personal dislike of the man distort this situation.

insidejoke2 (June 26, 2014)

they were GREAT in CT on this tour. as stated, Cinema Cinema was excellent, glad to see an up and coming band on this tour.
The royal we played for a little, and had technical difficulties.
Black Flag were energetic, and played mostly the hits. I can't say enough about how great the rhythm section was, they were spot on perfect, and intensely engaging. I was pleasantly surprised as before this, I would have been on team FLAG for sure.

rabbit (June 26, 2014)

and john - unrelated and not asked for, but if you had any interest in taking one guy's opinion as a little bit of constructive criticism, please see below:

please note that i was and am very complimentary of this review. while i've at times resorted to hyperbole to get the point across, my criticism of you hasn't been because i enjoy pissing on people's campfires, nor because i like arguing on the internet. i like to think that i give credit where credit's due and can be relied to give an honest and fair opinion without being accused of trolling or being a hater or whatever.

i have enormous reservations about a lot of what you post up here on this website - the majority of which could very easily be swept away by something as simple as a rephrasing, an admission of guilt, or even an apology . but i'm more than happy to give credit where credit's due - this is a well written review, and i'd love to see more of it's kind here on the website.

i'm aware that none of my opinion matters in the slightest - but i hope that this comes across as something to think about and maybe take on board, rather than some asshole diatribe on the internet.

--- my 2 cents.

elliot (June 26, 2014)

Awesome review. There were so many little details you included that really brought the show to life for me.

rabbit (June 26, 2014)

as dave said, great review. the last paragraph in particular was really good.

davebrave4 (June 26, 2014)

Great review.

IllaZilla (June 26, 2014)

I caught this tour last month in San Diego. The Royal We didn't play; the lineup was The Dollyrots, Cinema Cinema, and Black Flag. I really liked Cinema Cinema; there was a point where the guitarist broke a string and, when handed a replacement, used one guitar to play the other. It actually sounded really cool. As you say, they would begin with something slightly structured then blow it up into experimental almost-improv, then kind of bring it back together. I thought it fit in well with the Greg Ginn school of guitar jam wizardry and you could tell there was some Ginn influence there.

I didn't dislike Black Flag the way you seem to have. I caught the lineup with Reyes last year and I actually thought this one was better. I think the venue made a big difference; I saw the 2013 lineup in the side room at Soma, which is a rather small room that used to be a movie theater. The sound wasn't great, especially where I was standing (pretty much right in front of Ginn) and there just wasn't enough room for Reyes to do any of the panther-like movement you're describing. He mostly paced back and forth within about a 4ft square and belted toward the audience. I chalk this up to the small stage space. He definitely wasn't the self-described "Mexican jumping bean" from back in his youth. The 2014 gig was at the House of Blues which is a much bigger space both onstage and in the audience, and the band benefited from it. Vallely did do a lot of facing the drums and banging his head at them as you describe, but this was mostly during instrumental sections like the opening jam. Other times he got up on the edge of stage or on the monitors and was very comparable to Rollins in stage presence, all sinewy muscle and taught veins in the neck.

The Smith/Pertzborn rhythm section was definitely tighter than the Klein/Moore version, and the songs felt much more rehearsed and better executed. A big factor in this was likely the lack of What The... material so for the most part the band was sticking to the classics, except for the handful of new songs (which I actually liked). The theramin use was minimal, mostly utilized during the solos on "Slip It In" (one of my favorite BF songs, so I worried a bit when Ginn reached for the thing during it, but thought the end result was actually kind of cool and different). It seemed to me that Ginn was having more fun with the old songs this time around, whereas in 2013 he seemed to be playing them more out of obligation and was more energetic about the Good for You and What The... stuff. This time he just seemed more into it when playing the classics, more likely to move about his side of the stage and jam near the drummer and such rather than sort of staying in his head-shaking trance over near the theramin.

My overall impression was that the show was better than I had expected it to be considering all the drama. I thought it was better than what I had seen in 2013, and my advice to those curious was not to dismiss this lineup out of hand, to at least check them out first. I agree that it would be better if Vallely had a more distinctive style and presence rather than mostly lending himself to being compared to Rollins, but maybe this is something he'll develop with more time in role. His stage presence was definitely a step up from what I had caught of Good for You's set in 2013, where he barely moved around at all. I'm actually interested to hear what this lineup turns out in studio (I hope Smith plays, rather than another Dale Nixon credit). Then again, a big part of what made Black Flag so dynamic during their initial run was the personality dynamics which could often form a combustible mixture. One of the reasons BF 2013 wasn't very well received seemed to be that these dynamics were lacking. I hope that as this lineup develops the new members will find ways to add their own voices to the proceedings, as that should contribute to more interesting output.

Anyway, excellent review John.

Loot (June 25, 2014)

I was there and I disagree. Black Flag were great. The Royal We were disappointing (especially compared to the set I saw in Oklahoma City). Cinema Cinema were right on.

misterspike (June 25, 2014)

This is a great review. Fair, yet also fairly takes Ginn (and Mike V.) to task bringing up the whole 2013 debacle. Personally, I wish Ginn would just advertise these shows as "The Greg GInn Band" or something to that effect. Then again, it's his legacy and he can tarnish it as much as he wishes.

DesertBurst92 (June 25, 2014)

Team FLAG forever

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