Erstwhile hardcore punk thrashers Black Flag have sort of turned into the thinking person's heavy-metal band--thinking mainly, mind you, about anger, and sin, and guilt, and definitely not redemption.
No, Flag's self-serious subject matter hasn't changed much, but the pace has slowed down and sludged out somewhat, with much of the quartet's recent material sounding like a cross between early Black Sabbath and some especially unpleasant form of jazz.
That kept the poseurs in the slam pit less incited than they might have otherwise been Saturday at the Stardust Ballroom, where Black Flag made its first hometown appearance in more than a year. But if the new direction (make that directions--with an average of three LPs a year recently, it's hard to keep track) had some of the punks a bit wary, the group's controversial avant-gardeisms seem to be attracting a mellower, surprisingly diversified new crowd.
Even if this time much of the audience seemed more bemused than taken in by the music's belligerence, the Stardust was still not a place for Miss Manners. Shirtless singer Henry (The Illustrated Man) Rollins heaved to the rhythm like U2's Bono taken over by demons. Guitarist Greg Ginn (also a member of the all-instrumental opening band, Gone) turned in extensive free-form solos that were either brilliant improvisation or pompous sloppiness--take your pick. A severe time was had by all.
The triple bill, which also included Painted Willie, repeats tonight at Safari Sam's in Huntington Beach.