I don’t know about you, but I love that first-time feeling of seeing bands play live. Especially bands that I’ve been into for years and somehow never got around to seeing in concert. I was able to cross another band off of my concert bucket list when I caught Black Flag at Harpos Concert Theatre on Tuesday night.
Even if you’re not a fan or can’t name any of their songs, you’ve probably heard of Black Flag. If not the band itself, surely you’re familiar with their iconic four black bars logo. Quick history lesson for the uninitiated. Guitarist and songwriter Greg Ginn started playing music with a group of friends in Hermosa Beach, CA around 1976, inspired by the stripped down sounds of bands like The Ramones and The Stooges. In 1979 they changed the name of their band to Black Flag and became one of the most influential bands to come out of the late 70s/early 80s L.A. punk scene that included bands like Fear, The Germs, X, The Circle Jerks, etc. Black Flag has had a revolving door of band members through the years with Ginn being the only constant, but the most well-known lineup featured vocalist Henry Rollins who joined in 1981.
The Rollins-fronted version of Black Flag made yearly stops in the Detroit area, playing spots like Bookie’s, Clutch Cargo’s, City Club, Madison Theatre and Traxx. The band actually broke up here in Detroit in 1986 after a show at Graystone Hall (fun fact, it’s a coin laundromat now). So seeing them in town felt special. And seeing them at the legendary Harpos was something else altogether. Ahh, Harpos. I have many a tale of underage debauchery and petty larceny that took place at Harpos. I bet a lot of you do. It’s awesome that the old place is back and booking some terrific shows.
Even though Gregg Gin is the only original Black Flag member in the band, I was still looking forward to hearing him play those songs live. And he didn’t disappoint. Backed by a capable rhythm section and fronted by lead singer (and professional skateboarder) Mike Vallely, the 2019 version of Black Flag tore through their classic material in front of mixed crowd of old school punks and newer disciples. I joked with one of the security guards on the way in about whether he was ready for this crowd of middle aged dads? But there were plenty of folks there who, like me, wanted their first Black Flag experience. One that stuck out was the guy that brought his son along, who couldn’t have been more than four years old, to share the experience. The little dude had his headphones on to help block the sound and when he was bored checking out the band, back up to mom he went while dad headed back to the mosh. Of course he won’t remember the show, but it’s going to be a special memory for dad knowing he was able to share his passion for that band with his kid.
A tip of the cap to The Linecutters out of Phoenix, AZ who are supporting Black Flag on this tour. They put on a rousing set that had a circle pit in full swing and even came out to join their veteran tour mates for a couple of numbers. Be sure to check out them out.
You can’t always be there when bands are in their prime. Maybe you don’t have the opportunity; maybe you were born too late. But whenever you have the chance to go check out a band that meant something to you once upon a time, I’d encourage it. You never know if you’ll have the chance to be there again. Like the saying goes: Life’s short… buy the concert tickets!