Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Back in Black ... Flag, that is, at Goldenvoice 30th Anniversary gigs

Chuck Dukowski attacks his bass during Black Flag's short set. (All McHank photos)

We missed out on the big gigs last weekend, saluting the Goldenvoice gig-promotion team at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The weekend featured sets by punk luminaries like Social Distortion, Bad Religion, X, the Descendents, the Dickies... Black Flag ... and more.

Our trusty correspondents McHank and Steve Coombs covered the action for us on the final night. Here's their stories:

By McHank

So, I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach on Saturday, December 17, 2011. This feeling, you know, that the Descendents were going to play the next day in Santa Monica, and that I was going to miss that show, all because of a four-hour drive, each way. I got on Facebook (if you know me, there aren’t long periods of time when I’m not on Facebook.) and I see someone post that Black Flag are going to be playing the Goldenvoice 30th Anniversary show on Sunday. With the Descendents. The show I’d been making excuses to not go to.

Having heard rumors about bands playing and showing up at shows and it not happening, I knew better than to take one person on the Internet’s rumor as the absolute truth. Then I started seeing more posts about it, and more details, and everything seemed to line up. Black Flag’s official page said that Bill Stevenson, Keith Morris and Chuck Dukowski would be performing with Stephen Egerton filling in for Greg Ginn, but they would really be doing a Black Flag set. Yes, I know, No Ginn, No Flag. But still --not something I wanted to miss.

So, I was sold, and then I got that same pit-of-my-stomach feeling that it would be impossible to get tickets. So, I put the plan into motion, found a friend that was willing to go, and got tickets. It was happening.

I had been to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium a few years back, but for some reason it was way smaller than I remembered it. How could THIS venue be big enough to accommodate THIS crowd?

So I went in thinking, the show would be the Descendents, the Vandals, the Dickies, and hopefully, I felt pretty confident, Black(ish) Flag. Someone in line says, “Ill Repute is opening” so, that’s pretty cool, I hope they’ll sound good.

The show starts and we see a banner for Love Canal. I had never heard about them, so I looked them up on my decidedly unpunk iPhone, and see they were a Huntington Beach punk band from the mid-‘80s. Cool. Well, they start playing, most of them look like regular dads, but the singer has that look where you can tell he’s been a character for quite a few years, gone through some shit. I can kind of tell that they probably used to be kind of good, but they sure didn’t seem like they’d played much since 1985. Well, still, I think, pretty cool to see that someone remembered them. The sound person wasn’t doing them any favors, drenching all of their vocals, including between-song banter, in enough reverb to make it sound like we were in a baseball stadium. I could kind of make out that there would be some special guests.

The crowd loved it anyway, and there was a circle pit as soon as the first notes were hit.

As soon as Love Canal finished, Shattered Faith came out and played a few, maybe three songs. The singer looked like a latter-day Johnny Rotten. They started out really strong, the first song sounded pretty rehearsed. The second song fell completely apart, and they struggled through one more. Not terrible, but mercifully short.
John Phaneuf: Nardcore style with Ill Repute.
Ill Repute came up next, sound problems were fixed and they played tight and fast. Finally, a band that had stayed a band -- you could really hear a difference. The singer, John Phaneuf, was electric. Strong stage presence, good awareness of what his voice could and should do. They were great. If they'd monkeyed with their sound since "What Happens Now," they didn't show it. This sounded how I would like to think they sounded when that was new.

The Dickies came on next, and having seen them a year ago, I had a pretty good idea of what I’d be in for. Solid band, obviously since they’d lost several members to death, not all original, but Leonard Graves Phillips’s voice still sounds great, even if he looks a little like a melting Richard Belzer. Stan Lee still is playing the blazing guitar parts, the Stuart puppet still comes out, and they are just incredibly entertaining. Phillips recounted having seen Emerson Lake and Palmer in the same venue we were in when he was 15, and said, “who would have thought, 80 years later, here I’d be…”
If Leonard could talk: Graves Phillips did with the Dickies.

The Dickies had a guest appearance: East Bay Ray from the Dead Kennedys came out and played Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” with them. The crowd was a bit more stationary, but The Dickies left everyone happy.

The Vandals were next and there was a palpable shift in energy. A lot more shoving, a lot more people flying on top of the crowd. The Vandals aren’t my favorite band for records, I can appreciate a novelty song here and there, but I wasn’t expecting TOO much. I have to say, despite maybe not having the strongest straightforward punk songs, they do put a hell of a show on and they are tight and funny. Reminded me to loosen up a little bit and enjoy it. I wouldn’t be so judgmental on The Dead Milkmen, so why be with them. They were great.
He wants to be a cowboy: Vandals singer Dave Quackenbush.

So if there was a shift in energy when the Vandals started—there was a seismic shift in the room when Keith Morris walked out on stage. This was HAPPENING. There was Dukowski, pacing the stage like a hungry lion about to make a kill. Bill Stevenson… everyone could feel we were in the presence of something special. This wasn’t even a lineup that had existed—sure three of the four people about to play were Black Flag band members, but never in this configuration. No matter.

They were announced and there was an absolute CRUSH of people infiltrating their way forward. Black Flag*, with an asterisk , was off and running from the first second. They tore through their set, the entire “Nervous Breakdown” EP in shortly over six minutes. I started the set at the barrier in front of the stage, and by the time they finished, thanks to various pushers, shovers, punchers, and pit goers, I’d been propelled to the back of the floor. Fifteen feet has never felt farther.

There was a strong sense when they finished, almost a “that was it?” feeling. But it hit like a hurricane. I’ve spent most of my life going to concerts on a regular basis. I don’t think I have ever felt that much energy in a room. It was astonishing. I do believe if Ginn had played, there would have been a full-scale riot, just like in the old days. Egerton did a noble job, as he is quite able. The crowd protested a bit that the set was over. Keith came out and apologized that that was all they had rehearsed, and at that it was only that day during sound check. I know for me, and the couple of friends that I had there, there was NOTHING to apologize for.
All grown up: Stephen Egerton and Milo Aukerman of the Descendents.
The Descendents took much longer getting to the stage than any of the other bands had. It didn’t matter, a load had been blown, and people were satiated. The Descendents were amazing by the way—fantastic. They played a solid career-spanning set, and each member of the band was completely on their game. You almost forget just how many incredible songs they have, in so much that the set could have easily been the greatest-hit track listing for an entire generation or three. Milo’s voice sounded as good as it ever has. Perfect. The crowd for them was decidedly more female than male. Not fair-weather fans, either. This crowd was dedicated and came out to worship. The Descendents brought some young kids out and had them recite the All-O-Gistics from ‘stone’ tablets... It was an excellent way to round out the event. 

By Steve Coombs
The Goldenvoice 30th Anniversary fest was this past weekend, and I decided to attend on the final day when the Descendents, the Dickies and the Vandals were the headliners.
The word had quickly spread over the Internet that a Black Flag reunion of sorts was taking place to cover the “Nervous Breakdown” EP. It was going to be Keith Morris on vocals, Stephen Egerton of the Descendents on guitar, and rounding out the rhythm section was the legendary Chuck Dukowski himself being kept in time by Bill Stevenson. Although this line up had never existed at the same time or played on the same stage together, this was as close as I was ever going to get to a Black Flag reunion, who are probably my all time favorite band. I had seen the Rollins 2003 show with Keith at Amoeba Records when they were covering Flag songs to raise money for the West Memphis 3's legal fees. The sheer power of that performance was overwhelming. The one-two punch of Rollins and Keith going through the classics was a great memory for me to have. Chuck came out and sang "What I See" and totally went berserk. The chance to see him actually play Flag songs was too good to pass up.
 I arrived at the show late, and missed Love Canal, Ill Repute, and the Dickies, but I was never a big fan of them so I didn't feel like I was missing out.
All wound up: Vandals axeman Warren Fitzgerald.
The Vandals (in name only) had started for the nearly sold out capacity crowd of 3,000, and the place was going nuts. They performed all of their hits --"Wanna be Manor","Urban Struggle", "Pirate's Life", "legend of Pat Brown" and "Anarchy Burger." They sounded good, and Josh Freese is an excellent drummer, but the band has no original members and has added metal solos to all of the songs. For a band with a large amount of new material, they seem to be dragging a dead corpse around by only playing the first EP that none of these guys recorded on.
After a short wait I left the seats to engage the crowd for what I had come to see, the Black Flag set. I had already seen the message-board gods debating if this is a glorified cover band or a legitimate second coming of the Flag. I didn't care, I just wanted to see it live.
Chuck came out and was slapping his bass around, like I read he use to do back at the old Flag shows. He was pumped up, despite the graying beard and hair. Keith, Bill and Stephen came out and wasted no time getting into the music. They broke into “Nervous Breakdown” and the place went apeshit. People were throwing plastic cups of beer through the crowd. The small contingent of moshers up front was constantly at war with the bouncers pushing back the crowd surfers into the pit or hauling them over the barricade.
Twenty seconds in, the huge PA system blew out, so the sound became muddled, but the band didn’t give a fuck. It was almost impossible to hear Chuck, but I could see him giving it his all. Egerton is not Greg Ginn, but I would bet he could play any of his riffs with equal proficiency. Stevenson was a beast, and Morris resembled the same form I have seen him give in OFF! in recent shows.
They blazed through "Fix Me", "I've Had It" and finished with "Wasted", which might have gotten the best reaction. It was short. They exited the stage, and some people booed. Keith came back out and said they only had a chance to practice today and those were the only songs they had rehearsed. I guess people were expecting more. For one practice, they sure sounded good. Not as good as the 2003 show, but pretty damn close.
Drum Ogre: Stevenson once again jammed with Flag and the Descendents.

Bassmaster General: Karl Alvarez

The Descendents were on next, and broke out into the song of the same name as their band. No small talk, no intros, just straight to the music. Unfortunately, Egerton's amp blew out. He kept playing the song, but they were minus his sound for the first two songs. They stopped to set up another amp and got right back into the thick of things. The sound was pretty badly mixed, but you could tell the Descendents were in top form. They played songs from all of their albums, and played a heavy dosage of stuff from "Everything Sucks", the 1997 comeback album.  They also did the classic songs justice, including "Bikeage", "Myage", "Catalina" and “Suburban Home.” They closed the set with "I'm Not a Loser", and even brought out their kids to read the commandments of ALL on "All-o-gistics." 
Kids on coffee? Nope, it's "All-o-gistics" time.
For the encore, Bill announced, "Maybe we can get through three songs without any problems." They closed with "Sour Grapes,” “Coolidge” and "Thank You." People looked happy. I saw couples hugging each other. I saw first-generation fans with their kids. I saw one kid who shaved half of his hair off and had the rest just left there. I didn't see any fights or bullshit for the most part, which is always a good sign. Despite the sound problems, this was a solid show, and I am glad I finally got to see the Descendents and Chuck play live.
Packed house for the Descendents. No telephone booth here.


  1. any more? audience pics?

  2. We might have more to come. Thanks for reading.