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Black Flag Live adds nothing new

Black Flag strikes again

"In spite of their regular airplay, the political nature of their music has prevented them from getting widespread acceptance."

Caption for photograph

Live '84, a Black Flag album on SST cassettes.

Black Flag has been one of the most controversial bands of the last decade. Their extreme lyrics and unrestrained use of all possible permutations of guitar chords characterizes them as the epitome of the Hardcore music scene. In spite of their regular airplay, the political nature of their music has prevented them from getting widespread acceptance.

After landing a deal for the mass distribution of Damaged, MCA's Al Bergamo refused to release the record on principle. After listening to the album, he decided it challenged parental values beyond the threshold of good taste.

But 1984 represented a new awakening for Black Flag fans. After seemingly endless court battles with Unicorn Records, Black Flag finally broke loose to release new material on their own SST label. During the time of the court battles the band considerably decreased its recording activity, but continued to evolve.

In contrast to the short-burst and high-energy Black Flag of a few years ago, today's efforts tend to be longer and less thrash oriented. Live in '84 is a performing summary of the three studio albums they have released this year: My War, Slip it In, and Family Man.

Live in '84 is a recording of Black Flag's Aug. 26 concert at the Stone in San Fransisco. Under normal circumstances, a band like Black Flag would have been booked at the On Broadway just a few blocks away from the Stone.

However, the On Broadway closed its doors to the public earlier that summer. As a result the Stone attracted a less hardcore oriented audience than Black Flag would normally have drawn. Strike one.

The live recording opens with "The Process of Weeding Out," an eight-minute instrumental featuring the lead guitar work of Gregg Ginn. I find the piece to be rather boring. In concert it serves to build audience anticipation for the much awaited appearance of Henry Rollins, lead throat of the Flag.

However, on the live album it just doesn't have the same effect. Incidentally, this is the only song on Live '84 that has not been previously released on a studio recording.

The live album picks up substantially after the first eight minutes. The second track, "Nervous Again," is one of only four cuts on the album released prior to 1984. Others include "Fix Me," (also on the Nervous Again EP, 1978).

The Family Man album, an offbeat, artsy spoken-word and instrumental record, is represented by an instrumental written by Greg Ginn with a title that would take up two lines if I listed it here. This cut is well done and goes over much better than the instumental that opens the live set.

Most of the album consists of live cuts from the My War and Slip it In LPs. All but two of the nine tracks on My War enjoy a place on the Live '84 album. A live version of "Scream," one of the cuts from My War that didn't make it onto the album, appears on a previously released compilation called Rat Music for Rat People with outtakes from a number of other bands such as the Dead Kennedys, DOA, Bad Brains, and the Avengers. Slip it In is similarly represented with six out of its eight cuts.

Strike two. Live '84 doesn't effectively convey the intensity and energy present at a Black Flag concert. Although "Black Coffee" and "My War" come through very strongly on this album, most of the other songs lose something vital in the transition from the stage to recorded media.

In particular, "My Ghetto" and "Wound Up," two of my favorite cuts from the Slip it In LP, come across as mediocre on Live '84. Capturing the essence of a band on a live album is an extremely difficult task. My guess is that it is something that wasn't meant to be for the likes of Black Flag.

My suggestion to those of you who want to experience Black Flag live is to make it out to the Channel the next time the band is in town. They come through Boston about twice a year, and when they do it is a show not to be missed.

This album didn't totally strike out. If nothing else, it is a reasonable collection of Black Flag tunes released over the past year. On the other hand, my opinion is that you are better off with the studio versions of most of the songs performsed from My War and Slip it In. Only dedicated Black Flag fans will get their money's worth out of this album.

Stephen A. Brobst->