“He’s a hippie,” “I heard he cut his hair,” “He’s a wannabe,” “Poser,” “I heard he was really good,” I heard all of this and more the first time Black Flag played Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa what seems like a lifetime ago.
We were in the parking lot, drinking cheap beer and talking about the new Black Flag singer, Henry Rollins. We were not sure if we were going in or not; after all five dollars was a lot of money for us high school kids.
We could hear music coming through the back door, which thinking back, was loud, booming, and riotous! When LA bands came to the Nest, they brought trouble. Four or five would always jump some OC kid, spikes in the face, bottle broken over his head. Punk rock was violent back then, and I never saw anybody get helped up if they went down. You got up quick or got stomped. But oh how times have changed!
I arrived at the Observatory and there was a huge line of costumed concertgoers waiting to get in. I settled in and Total Chaos was three or four songs into their set and I heard the familiar lyrics of “Police Rat.”
Total Chaos has amassed a huge following with the Stop Racism crowd with songs like “End of White Supremacy,” “Final Solution,” “Racial Rupture,” and “Kill the Nazis.” They are making a big comeback in this racially-charged social environment. The leather jackets, spiked long hair, ripped t-shirt, ripped jeans, chains, and engineer boots take me back to the early ‘80s and remind me of GBH or Discharge.
Total Chaos sounded great and it was a treat for me because I have never seen them live. With 10 studio albums, four EPs, and an “I don’t care” attitude – oh and a rumor they are working on a new album – it is no wonder Total Chaos has a huge following. As Total Chaos finished up their last song, I realized the venue was now packed.
Setting up the stage for Black Flag must have been quite the undertaking because it felt like hours before they finally hit the stage. But the time arrived. Blue lighting, a hint of fog, and the band slowly made their way on to stage, except for front-man Mike Vallely. Guitarist Greg Ginn put up his arms as if summoning spirits from another world, and then Vallely emerged. They wasted no time, going into “Can’t Decide,” which turns into the longest Black Flag song I have ever heard.
Vallely, pro skater and musician, started with Black Flag in 2003 as a guest singer, performing “My War” from start to finish, three nights in a row. Ginn asked Vallely if he would be interested in doing vocals should Ginn decide to launch Black Flag again. According to Vallely, he never expected to see Ginn again. That changed in 2012 when Ginn did in fact start working to bring back Black Flag. Not just Black Flag, but a new Black Flag.
Now, listening to them begin “Nervous Breakdown,” then “No Values,” I realized I can understand every word. This is not scream and yell and kick you in the face Black Flag. This is a new Black Flag; a band for a new era. I’m impressed with the musical quality. No one is banging on their instruments and Vallely isn’t ripping off his shirt and spitting on the crowd. Get ready because Black Flag has matured!
Black Flag performed a 19-song set with four long instrumentals. They finished up with “Louie Louie” and everyone sang along.
Here’s my take on Black Flag now; they are a great-sounding band, excellent musicians, and Vallely’s voice is awesome. They aren’t the Black Flag I’m used to hearing, but I enjoyed hearing them all the same.