Review – Black Flag

Date: Sunday 13th October 2019

Venue: Academy 2, Manchester

Supports: Total Chaos

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When the option comes up to see a band play that inspired most of the bands that you listen to currently it is a real no brainer. Especially when it’s the first time that the band have played the UK in over 35 years. And with that said the drive across to Manchester seemed like nothing for the spectacle that tonight was going to be seeing Black Flag playing live.

First up however were tonight’s only support Total Chaos. Starting out with the ringing guitar before launching into ‘War in L.A.’ really set things off to a great start, the band sounded great live and were clearly enjoying themselves with everyone jumping around and really filling the stage. The crowd may have been a little sparse at first but certainly filled up as the set went on .Total Chaos were the only support tonight so had a big job to build energy before tonight’s headliner but with a 45 min set of original hardcore punk the levels were easily met by the crowd. ‘Punk No Die’ got a great reaction to the crowd and really stuck to the title with the crowd pogoing in the pit throughout. ‘Running with the Youth’ brought riffs aplenty and definitely got some heads banging. And just when you thought you’d seen everything this band could offer they then brought out Tezz from Broken Bones/Discharge for a play through of one of his top tracks ‘Decapitated’. While playing tonight the band mentioned that tonight was part of their celebration of 30 years as a band which is amazing to hear as very few bands make it that far without a lot of effort and dedication. As the set went on it was clear to see during ‘Complete Control’ that, despite it being released over 20 years ago, there’s still the same issues around. Newer track Toxic Fallout sounded great and by the end of the set there was a sizeable pit forming. As Total Chaos finished with arguably their biggest track ‘Riot City’, it was clear that the crowd had increased massively and they had definitely build the energy up in preparation for Black Flag. Although the band may have been around for a long time but have certainly honed their performance over the years as there wasn’t a foot put wrong all while showcasing the raw energy of punk in its finest form.

Total Chaos

As I mentioned at the start, Black Flag were playing their first tour of the UK in over 35 years tonight so was a real no brainer for me to go having not even been born last time they were across. Opening their set with ‘Depression’ it was obvious that the crowd had been waiting for this moment for the entire night. As the riffs rang out on stage the crowd wasted no time in erupting into chaos. By the time the band had reached ‘Black Coffee’ it was clear that the crowd were at maximum activity. As with total chaos before it was clear that Black Flag were enjoying themselves up on stage and with the addition of Mike Vallely on vocal he really brought a ton of energy to the stage dancing around whilst Greg Ginn dazzled the crowds with his insane technical ability. ‘Gimme gimme gimme’ was notable tonight for having the first crowd surfer of the night go over the barrier and it certainly wouldn’t be this evenings last. As the band flew through the huge 22 song set list tonight it was nice to have a breat of fresh air as the band played an extended intro to ‘Six pack’. The bass and drums sounded incredible in the mix and were played to perfection, building the song up well with maximum frenzy once the track kicked in fully. 

It took until 40 minutes into the set before Black Flag gave a quick round of introductions to their current line up before launching straight back into it. Whilst usually I’m not a fan of bands that just play all their songs with very little talking tonight seemed different and with the timelessness of their tracks the link between crowd and band was already there without needing to appeal to newer fans. It was nice to hear from Mike V when he mentioned about how he’d seen Black Flag  when he was younger and that it was wild they’d asked him to step up to do vocals back in 2013. After playing through a couple of lesser known songs, it was time for the band to finish the night with the big hitters, Launching into ‘Nervous Breakdown’ the entire venue was shaking with the crowd really going for it and screaming along with the words. As if that wasn’t enough the band then went into ‘TV party’ which got exactly the same reaction from the crowd and really set things to end on a high.  

Black Flag

With no let up on their finale, the band brought Total Chaos back out to help with vocals on their penultimate track ‘Rise Above’. Being a true classic in the hardcore punk scene it was no surprise that the crowd lapped it up with the pit engulfing the entire front half of the venue. It was definitely the highlight of the set and a moment that would be hard to top for any band. After the carnage of ‘Rise Above’ there was only one track left for them to play before finishing off their UK tour and that was their well-known cover of Richard Berry track ‘Louie Louie’. Usually when listening to this track it’s a minute of pure energy and would have finished the night off perfectly however Greg had other plans this evening as it became an extended guitar solo for him to really showcase his talent. Unfortunately while his technical ability was clear the song seemed to drag on for minutes and after the high energy of ‘Rise Above’ it seemed like a very weird way to end the night. After the extended guitar solo he then passed his guitar across to Shawn from Total Chaos to finish the night’s solo before things came to a very abrupt end. With no encore to follow on and just a crowd photo with the band it seemed to draw the conversation after the show. With no one talking about how incredible the set was but just questioning why the solo ended things this evening.

If Black Flag had finished tonight at the end of ‘Rise Above’ then it would have been a 10/10 set with no doubt however this ending really shut down all the energy in the room. Whilst I am very happy I saw Black Flag this evening I can’t help but feel that no one had really thought about how to end it and it would be interesting to see if the same happened at other venues on this tour. Still regardless of this it was certainly one that I can now tick off my bucket list of bands and the added bonus of seeing Mike V who was one of my favourite skateboarders growing up was insane. This will certainly be a night for me to remember in years to come.

Black Flag