Thursday, July 14, 2016

Concert Review: FLAG @ Underground Arts - Philadelphia, PA 06/29/16

We all have our heroes.  A good portion of the concerts we review we cover as a blog.  When I learned that FLAG was coming to Philly I put aside my blog hat.  I bought a ticket and I was going to this show as a fan.

I realized that seeing FLAG was as close as I was going to get to seeing Black Flag.  Let's face it though, Black Flag's lineup changed many times over the year and I am sure many would argue over what exactly would be a classic Blag Flag lineup.  This is, quite honestly, the best of both worlds.  They consist of the first (Keith Morris) and third (Dez Cadena) singers from the band, original bassist (Chuck Dukowsky), one time drummer (Bill Stevenson), with Greg Ginn's guitar duties being taken over by Stephen Egerton (Descendents, All).  The only caveat being the band members are now in their 50's and 60's.

 I arrived early enough to see both opening bands, The Dirty Nil and War on Women.  It was nice to see I wasn't the only one.  It was interesting to see a mixture of punk rockers aging from 21 to 61.  Many I recognized from other punk shows in the Philly area.  Some were attending their first.  Along with studded jean jackets and Mohawks were also eye patches and canes.  I don't know if there was ever a time in music that a genre spoke to so many  generations at once.

First up were The Dirty Nil, a three piece hailing from Canada.  I love when I can walk into a venue to see a band like FLAG and have an unknown opening act blow me a away.  They are one part Pixies, one part Replacements, and one part Fugazi.  They sound so familiar yet I couldn't tell you exactly who they sound like.  Their energy and attitude were completely dialed up.  Since the show I have been listening to their new album Higher Power and it amazes me how their sound changes from Punk to Indie Rock to Power Pop yet all stays consistent.  My personal fav was "Friends in the Sky".

War on Women were on next and completely embodied the punk spirit.  Their music was fast and strong and their lyrics were sharp.  Their music reminded me of Bikini Kill but I was most impressed with their lyrical content tackling feminist issues like street harassment and rape.  At their merch table free tampons and condoms were made available.  For a moment their set transported me back to the days of City Gardens in Trenton, NJ.  That is a pretty high compliment.

The night was getting late and FLAG finally took the stage.  Their set list was taped to the drum set large enough for everyone to read.  This is what everyone came to hear.  You could feel the pent up energy ready to explode.

They had arrived late so they were sound checking in front of a restless crowd.  As Keith Morris was telling tales of Jello Biafra doing yoga before concerts the crowd was yelling for him to shut up.  I so love Punk shows.

Before we even knew what was hitting us they were off and running into "Revenge"  Underground Arts erupted.  Beer flew and bodies clashed.  I couldn't help but to smile.

FLAG sounded great.  The sound, the energy, it was everything I had hoped it would be.  Judging by the crowd's reaction, I would say they felt the same way.  They were burning through their material like a machine gun.

The intensity was building as they played "White Minority" and "Gimme Gimme Gimme".  It came to the point in the show where they hit Dez's material.  I remember reading that Henry Rollins was asked to be in the band Black Flag because Dez's voice couldn't handle the night after night abuse.  As he addressed the crowd you could hear it but when it was go time he delivered 100%

The highlight of Dez's set was "Six Pack".  The crowd was drained.  They had moshed and thrashed and were slowing down.  You could see the exhaustion on their face.  Keith grabbed the mic and explained he would be singing the next song for the rest of his life and to look for it at a summer stock near you.  He then launched into "Nervous Breakdown".  The crowd got their second wind.

They ended their set fittingly with "Louie Louie".  No one was leaving.  There would be an encore or a riot.  They came back out giving each singer one last song.  Dez finished up the encore with "Damaged I".  After the set finished and the band left the stage Chuck remained just staring down the crowd.  I was reminded of a passage from "Get In The Van" by Henry Rollins were Chuck explained to him that it was his duty to entertain and give his all even if there were only 3 people in the crowd.  They left it all on the stage for us.  We knew it.  That is why all these years later we were all there.

Chuck walked off the stage and immediately started talking to the crowd by the railing.  He gladly signed my tour poster and continued talking to the man next to me that had bought one of Chuck's shirts off of eBay and offered to give it back to him.  Dez came out to pack up his gear and I was able to get his signature as well.  At that point UA Staff needed to move the barricade back so the band could pack out.  Bill and Steve were so busy packing I couldn't get their attention.  I had waited and hour and realized I was one of 10 people left.  Just as Keith popped his head from a door Security told me they needed me to leave.  They could see the disappointment in my face.  Security looked at me and asked if I still needed a signature and I pointed over to Keith.  The Underground Arts employee then took my poster and Sharpiee and walked over to Keith and got him to sign it for me.  Thank you Underground Arts for having incredible staff.  This meant the world to me.

It has been a while since I have seen a show strictly as a fan.  This has become another night that I will remember fondly.  It reminded me why I do this.  For the love of music.

See you when the needle drops!


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