The youth culture of the late 1970s proved to be a tinderbox of explosive energy that would resonate long after the first wave of bands to burst onto the punk scene would implode or temper out. But when the dust of the era settled, a few bands would stand out as being among the most influential, the most sonically revolutionary, and as having not just the widest influence on music but on the culture in general.
Hermosa Beach’s Black Flag would be one of the few that was equal parts wrecking ball and unguided missile. The band’s experimentation with the furthest boundaries of recorded sound, guerrilla business dynamics, work ethic that stretched beyond tireless, and a habit of touring and upturning towns and communities that had before laid entirely off the map can be deceptively easy to forget given the internet’s ubiquity on the spread of music and style these days.
But in the 1980s there was no internet, there were no punk-branded stores in the mall or clothing companies marketing to families. There weren’t even popular music venues that would recognize or allow punk bands to book shows. And among the DIY scene that erupted out of necessity, it was Black Flag that would spread the music, the anti-conventional business model and the sheer aggression of living a young fringe existence under the rule of a conservative President Ronald Reagan deeper into the fabric of urban and rural America than almost any other band.
Beyond the songwriting, the bedroom record label SST Records put its own as well as a growing cadre of others’ releases. The tireless practicing and touring would grind down more than a few band members. There were the interviews captured in soon-to-be iconic documents of the era such as Penelope Spheeris’ “The Decline Of Western Civilization” film, and the eventual call for the Black Flag juggernaut to disband. Black Flag leader Greg Ginn was there for it all.
The band’s early releases such as the “Nervous Breakdown” and “Jealous Again” EPs are pushing 40 years old, but it’s hard to name any band since that has matched Black Flag in the sheer aggression and intensity. Beyond the band itself, those involved have created their own cultural shockwaves.
Just look at the art of Raymond Pettibon, who got his start handling Black Flag’s cover and flier artwork. Or original singer Keith Morris, who has gone on to start The Circle Jerks and OFF! And later vocalist Henry Rollins — any fan of Black Flag should without question track down a copy of Rollin’s “Get In The Van” book, which recounts the singer’s journals through years of touring with Black Flag.
With a present that’s almost as tumultuous as the band’s past, Greg Ginn will bring the current incarnation of Black Flag, featuring skater Mike Vallely on vocals, in addition to Ginn’s guitar and theremin, to Jub Jub’s on Sunday, Sept. 1. With a 2019 tour – the band’s first U.S. tour in five years – that looks as ambitious as their ’80s tours in terms of hitting venues from large cities to small towns in every corner of the country with no days off – Black Flag is an institution and will playing songs that are responsible for punk and hardcore existing on the wide level that is does today.
This one is absolutely not to be missed.
— Shaun Astor
- Black Flag
Openers: The Linecutters
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1
Where: Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor, Reno
Tickets: $20 and $25
This is an all-ages show