This past leap day brought an uncommon event: A concert with Black Flag.  It was the last show of their whirlwind 30 shows in 2 months of their North American tour.  Despite not having a new album since 2013, that didn’t stop their legion of fans from jam-packing the Garden Amp in Garden Grove. They filled every seat and sold out the Amphitheater. 

As intro music started to play, the crowd immediately got on their feet. Black Flag emerged diving face-first into “Depression” off their first album from 1981, “Damaged” and the crowd cheered.  They went straight from “Depression” to “I’ve Had It” without skipping a beat.

At the beginning, the crowd was restless; you could tell by how still the crowd was for a punk rock show. With their eyeballs glued to the stage, everyone was enamored by the legacy playing before them. The entire house stood there in awe, enjoying every miniscule detail that they could lay their eyes on. Eventually and as expected, the moshing and crowd surfing got much more intense.

Black Flag LIVE at the GARDEN AMP

Now fronted by skateboarding ultra-legend, devoted vegan, home-based skateboard business owner and all-around rad guy Mike Vallely; Black Flag has another deep, raspy-voiced vocalist that sounds similar to previous vocalist, Henry Rollins. Their unbelievably talented drummer, Isaias Gil was absolutely astonishing! How his arms weren’t noodles the next day goes beyond reason.  He has the endurance of a kid chasing an ice cream truck with a wad of hundred-dollar bills in his pocket after his mom says, “Go for it!” 
Since it was an all-ages show, “Slip It In” wasn’t necessarily a song thought to be on the set list by some of their fans that brought their kids (cough-cough *me*)… but it was… and it was amazing!  Minus L7’s Suzi Gardner’s backing vocals from the original recording in 1984, Mike made the song work with his own style and almost kid-friendly lines.

Black Flag founder Greg Ginn’s brilliant and complex guitar playing style shined through the 4 minute long intro to this song.  I spoke with drummer, Isaias Gil who told me, “The intro to “Slip It In” is not structured.  The bass starts the phrase and Greg encouraged me to take liberty through that.  At some point a groove is established and then Greg takes over the solo till we establish where to come in and start the intro again.”  Bassist, Joseph Noval blended his great improvisational bass playing talents smoothly alongside Gil’s drums.  It was some of the best free-styling punk rock had to offer.

On came the intro for “Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie” for the second time which quickly turned into probably one of the best-known Black Flag songs, “Rise Above.”  Just as quickly as they started to play, the crowd went into a frenzy of excitement and rushed the stage to dance and thrash from one side to the other, jumping into the crowd whether they had a landing pad of heads to fall on or not. 

Rise Above from the 1981 debut album titled, Damaged

“Louie, Louie” was their final song where friend and guitarist Jason Hampton joined them.  They played a bit slower than the rest of their set, which allowed everyone to absorb every last note they played and truly enjoy what was left of their final song.  Unfortunately, this song was a bit interrupted because some schmuck thought it would be cool to climb the rafters over the stage which distracted not only the entire crowd, but the band and security as well.  Luckily, he didn’t fall and injure anyone or himself (don’t do drugs, kids).  The band was able to complete their set in its entirety which only felt too soon since the last time they played in Orange County; which was 5 long years ago.

Louie, Louie LIVE

Truthfully, every uber-fan looks forward to one thing; meeting their idols.  Most successful band members just run and hide back in the green room. In most circumstances their fans are lucky to catch a glimpse of them at their merch table later on… but not these guys.  They know it only takes a second to make a life-long memory, so Greg and Mike stuck around after the show to meet, sign autographs and take photos with each fan in line. Instead of going to dry off or get more comfortable they spend the extra hour or so immediately after their set with their fans.  How cool is that?! That’s a lesson for any up-and-coming band to take notice of. What’s the take away? The difference between any band being good to their fans and great towards them is the effort. That’s ironically the same measurement for fans that weigh the difference between a band that sounds good live, and LEGENDS!