Black Flag Performs At House Of Blues Sunset Strip

Review by Andrew Bansal
[Photos by Brad Worsham]

May 31st 2014, House Of Blues Sunset Strip, West Hollywood CA: Bringing their ‘Victimology’ spring/summer North American trek home, Los Angeles hardcore punk veterans Black Flag headlined the House Of Blues Sunset Strip last night with touring support act Cinema Cinema and local opener The Dollyrots. The night prior to the show, I was at the Loaded Rock Bar in Hollywood, gazing at a poster depicting the marquee of the famous Ramones/Black Flag show at the Palladium on November 17 1984 along with the LAPD riot squad that had to be deployed outside the venue on that occasion. It was at that moment that I realized I’d be seeing Black Flag  in less than 24 hours, which I’ve never done before, although I’d seen a number of hard rock and heavy metal bands playing Black Flag covers live and on studio albums over the years, Sepultura’s cover of ‘Rise Above’, Cavalera Conspiracy’s ‘Six Pack’ and Converge’s ‘Annihilate This Week’ coming to mind straightaway. So, despite the never-ending debates, discussions and criticisms surrounding the band’s current lineup, I was looking forward to my first ever live Black Flag experience.

I arrived at the venue at 8 PM just as the doors were being opened, and the turnout was already sizable, better than what some would have expected. It was interesting to note the unmistakable diversity of the crowd and the eclectic nature of the age groups it represented, with a surprisingly large number of attractive females in attendance, although sadly most of them were with their men. It was a better-looking crowd than what one would imagine at a Black Flag show, although folks demonstrating the look of punk’s typical demographic were still very much present, and with access to the upstairs section of the House Of Blues closed for this particular event, the entire crowd gathered on the main floor in readiness for the show to begin.

Starting off the show was Los Angeles-based female-fronted punk rock trio The Dollyrots, who began proceedings with a lively 30-minute set that despite its poppy tendencies engaged the crowd sufficiently for an opening act and singer/bassist Kelly Ogden handled it well with her musicianship, as well as crowd interactions, talking about her culture shock experiences upon first moving to LA from Florida and showing gratitude to Black Flag for letting the band open the San Diego, Anaheim and LA shows of their tour. In terms of her vocal delivery on the songs she sounded almost as if Pat Benatar had gone punk, and her two band mates provided good support to her on their respective instruments. A more-than-decent start to the show by The Dollyrots.

The Dollyrots links:

Next up, Brooklyn NY’s innovative two-piece atmospheric punk act Cinema Cinema took the stage, impressing one and all with their brand of music which not only fit the Black Flag demographic but also blended elements of groove and metal, and had a clear experimental vibe to it. Cousins Ev Gold on guitar/vocals and Paul Claro on drums put forth their best individual and combined efforts in front of this appreciative audience and presented some killer jams, specially the set-closing tune which lasted for well over 10 minutes. They instigated plenty of circle pits amongst the crowd on the general admission floor and undoubtedly succeeded in garnering a new set of fans. I’ve said time and again in recent reviews that two-piece bands embody the newest, highest and most advanced level of creativity in heavy music, and Cinema Cinema are an apt example of just that.

Cinema Cinema links:

At around 10:30, Black Flag, represented by the quartet of (sole continuous member) Greg Ginn on guitar/theremin, Tyler Smith on bass, Brandon Pertzborn on drums and newest vocalist Mike Vallely, appeared on stage and following a short instrumental jam to get their juices flowing, they laid straight into a 20-song, 70-minute set that went along smooth and non-stop, appeasing this gathering of Black Flag fans to the fullest and presenting a solid selection of tunes from the band’s revered catalog along with a couple of covers thrown in for good measure. The circle pits were moving with unabated intensity, hats and shoes were hurling around all over the place, there was the occasional crowd surfer, and the atmosphere inside the House Of Blues was simply great.

Amongst the songs Black Flag chose to play at this show, ‘Six Pack’, ‘No Values’, ‘Annihilate This Week’, ‘Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie’ and ‘TV Party’ received the best response and the loudest chorus sing-alongs from the crowd, and as would be expected from a true punk band, there was no fabricated encore and the full set was played straight through, with all four members switching instruments for a highly enjoyable rendition of the closing tune ‘Louie Louie’, a Richard Berry cover.

Performance-wise, Greg Ginn delivered the goods with effortless ease while his much younger band mates were able to portray Black Flag’s music with the kind of energy and intensity it deserves and requires from the band, specially Mike Vallely on the vocals doing proper justice to each and every tune. While old-school Black Flag fans might have their reservations against this incarnation of the band, Vallely cannot be faulted for putting his best efforts towards doing the job he’s been asked to do, and it’s clear to anyone who bore witness to this show that he revels in the spotlight and connects with the audience. Obviously, based on what I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I have no first-hand frame of reference in terms of comparing this lineup of the band to any of their past ones, but viewing it purely as a standalone, this Black Flag performance not only captured the essence of the band’s musical history but showcased their undeniable influence on hard rock and heavy metal, and a new Vallely-fronted Black Flag album will certainly make for an interesting listen.

Check out a full gallery of Brad Worsham’s 54 photos from the show below, or view it here if you’re on a non-Flash device.

(The Dollyrots 1-4, Cinema Cinema 5-18, Black Flag 19-54)

Black Flag links: 

Set List:
01. Instrumental Jam
02. Rise Above
03. Six Pack
04. I’ve Had It
05. Fix Me
06. No Values
07. Annihilate This Week
08. * New song *
09. Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie
10. Black Coffee
11. I’d Rather Die (Good For You cover)
12. Jealous Again
13. Nervous Breakdown
14. Police Story
15. Can’t Decide
16. Beat My Head Against The Wall
17. Slip It In
18. TV Party
19. Fucked Up (Good For You cover)
20. Revenge
21. Louie Louie (Richard Berry cover)

Black Flag/Cinema Cinema remaining North America tour dates:
June 11: Dallas, TX @ Elm Street Festival – All Ages + Bar w/ ID **Festival
June 13: Columbia, MO @ Blue Note – All Ages + Bar w/ ID
June 14: Lincoln, NE @ Bourbon Theatre – All Ages + Bar w/ ID
June 15: Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock – Ages 18 & Up + Bar w/ ID
June 16: Madison, WI @ Majestic – All Ages + Bar w/ ID
June 17: Chicago, IL @ Reggies – Ages 17 & Up + Bar w/ ID
June 18: Lansing, MI @ The Avenue – All Ages + Bar w/ ID
June 19: Toronto, ON @ Coda – Ages 19 & Up + Bar w/ ID
June 20: Montebello @ Amnesia Rockfest – All Ages **Festival
June 21: Danbury, CT @ Heirloom Arts – All Ages + Bar w/ ID
June 22: Brooklyn, NY @ Europa – All Ages + Bar w/ ID
June 23: Long Branch, NJ @ Brighton Bar – All Ages + Bar w/ ID
June 24: Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer – All Ages + Bar w/ ID
June 25: Pittsburgh, PA @ Altar Bar – All Ages + Bar w/ ID
June 26, Newport, KY @ Southgate House – All Ages + Bar w/ ID
June 27: Nashville, TN @ Exit/In – Ages 18 & Up + Bar w/ ID
June 28: Hot Springs, AR @ Maxine’s – All Ages + Bar w/ ID

House Of Blues Sunset Strip links: