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Black Flag in weekend salute to early years

September 15, 2003|Natalie Nichols | Special to The Times

The Black Flag "First Four Years" weekend at the Hollywood Palladium started with a bang -- Friday's sold-out opening night -- but ended underwhelmingly at the second and final show Saturday, with a half-full venue and mostly forgettable music.

These gigs represented the first time leader and guitarist-songwriter Greg Ginn has performed under the BF banner since the seminal South Bay hard-core group disbanded in 1986, after nine years of mixing thrashing punk with metal, experimental noise and jazz modality in tunes venting unrelenting suburban angst. Ginn, who long refused to reunite BF for profit, agreed to do so as a benefit for cats, a favorite cause of his. (You could even buy a $25 commemorative T-shirt depicting the iconic four vertical Black Flag bars as a kind of fence atop which stood a black cat.)

The "First Four Years" title telegraphed to fans that Henry Rollins, the band's longest-serving and most distinctive vocalist, wouldn't participate, as he and Ginn have long been estranged. Yet the pool of pre-1981 members on which to draw kept shrinking due to acrimony too convoluted to go into here.

Saturday's show dragged along in a 2 1/4-hour presentation meant to justify the $27.50 ticket. The 35-minute "First Four Years" portion felt watered down, even though the lineup of Ginn, third BF vocalist-guitarist Dez Cadena and second drummer Robo was technically accurate, as all had been members prior to 1981. (Bassist C'el was the anomaly, having been with a later BF incarnation.)

A middle-of-the-floor mosh pit swirled, but, although the players enthusiastically leaned into the songs, things didn't feel right without singers Keith Morris and Chavo Pederast, or co-founding bassist Chuck Dukowski. There were passing thrills, as when Cadena jumped onto a monitor to belt the classic Morris/Ginn alienation number "Wasted," but not all the tunes had aged well, and the moment proved less electrifying than it should have been.

The program began with Ginn, Cadena and a different drummer doing a complete rendition of Black Flag's 1984 Rollins-associated "My War" album. It seemed Ginn's not-so-subtle way of saying it's about the songs, not the singer. Yet, despite the rage of the title track and the Rollins-esque bellowing of vocalist Mike V. (who opened the show Friday with his band Mike V. and the Rats), that was 50 often droning minutes the show could've done without.

Still, rather than proving anticlimactic, a post-"First Four Years" half-hour of BF odds and ends -- which included a take on the anthemic "Rise Above" (another originally Rollins-sung tune) -- proved more relaxed and energetic. But it still wasn't enough to make the experience memorable.

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