Black Flag - Live '84 (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Black Flag

Live '84 (1984)

SST Records

It could be argued that Live ‘84 compiled the best aspects of all eras of Black Flag. No doubt, it was disappointing that it took the band nearly eight years to release a live album, missing out on the fiery renditions of these songs by Keith Morris, Ron Reyes, and Dez Cadena, not to mention the classic Damaged era that lead itself so well to the live album format.

Still, for a band (or main member) that was so dedicated to ignoring its past (or looking to the future depending upon your worldview) Live ‘84 sought to do justice to all eras of the band’s compositions.

Noticeably, it opened with one of guitarist Greg Ginn’s nastier instrumentals, “The Process of Weeding Out.” Ballsy that Ginn opened with the track, considering its eight minutes of avant-jazz-punk and the title itself. But, perhaps unlike many later day Ginn experiments, the instrumental worked wonderfully within the show’s context. The track at once set the gig apart from standard punk shows, but also demonstrated that something could be aggressive, off-kilter, and complex, at the same time. Plus as a sheer mood piece, it defined the band in sonics alone.

Then, perhaps surprisingly, the band launched into a version of their earliest classic, “Nervous Breakdown,” seemingly paying tribute to their future and their past. The Rollins version of the track defined Rollins as much as anything else. Removing the crazed eye sense of macabre humor form the Morris version, Rollins pulled the track into a pure mode for aggression. It’ was different than Morris’ spin, but it worked. The humor of ye-olde Black Flag was gone and in its place was a noisey, hate fueled, destruction machine. Black Flag may have changed, but thery certainly were doing interesting things.

For the rest of the release, the band jumped from era to era, including mid-period classics like “My War,” and “Black Coffee,” to iconic Reyes tunes like “Jealous again,” back to late period Ginn instrumentals “I won’t stick any of you.”

The older tracks like “Six Pack” and “Fix me” were more savage and more lumbering than their studio counterparts. Still, they were primal in a way unique to Rollins. Perhaps surprisingly, though, the mid-period and late period tunes were more intense and faster than their studio partners. “My War” was a perfect example of that with Rollins going all-out with the initial roar. To bassist Kira Roessler and drummer Bill Stevenson’s credit, while they might not have been involved with the writing of those tracks, they do justice to the tune’s heavy fury. (And that’s no small feat considering Dukowski himself penned the tune).

For sure, it’s somewhat frustrating that Black Flag’s first full live album was recorded within a year of their end. But still, Live ‘84 did what few live album can do, especially for band’s with multiple career stages: it exhibited the band’s virtues from all its periods while avoiding the clichés and soft spots that would pester the band for the remainder of its career.