The Underworld, Camden, London
Respect. That’s the key word here. Respect to Flag for choosing to spread their London debut over two nights at the Underworld rather than spending one night in a larger venue with half the required atmosphere. And respect to the members of Flag for pretty much inventing this thing we call hardcore punk rock, and so much more.
You’re in the presence of true legends here. No, it’s not Black Flag. That’s Greg Ginn’s band. He pissed all over his legacy a couple of years back with that dreadful new album and appalling live shows. I know, I witnessed it at Ieperfest in Belgium three years back – slow, sluggish, terrible rhythm section. Awful. Flag, however, (that’s Keith, Dez, Stephen, Chuck and Bill) play the music right, with energy, passion and power. You’re watching true legends at work here. All of the people involved, minus Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton who replaces Ginn, lived, breathed, wrote and performed this legendary material and when the band come out onstage tonight and Keith whispers into the mic…”it’s not my imagination,” before bellowing. “I’VE GOT A GUN IN MY BACK!!” and the whole band lurch into ‘Revenge’, the years melt away and the true power of the music is unleashed, knocking the crowd sideways.
And from that moment on, they fire off bolt after bolt of perfect hardcore punk rock. It’s a total joy to watch these true masters of the art. The way Chuck Dukowski screws up his face and hammers at the strings on this bass like his totally despises all four of them. The way Keith’s unmistakable vocals are both pitch perfect, snotty, sarcastic and drawling. The way he holds his space on the stage, his small frame shielding off endless stage dives and attempts to steal his microphone and scream along with the songs (he does not like this). The way Bill plays with precision and power, lagging on the beat so the songs never run away with themselves. The way both Dez and Stephen’s guitars manage to summon up the undeniable genius of Ginn’s original vision and noise. It’s perfect.
There’s no need to list all of the songs they played. They performed everything that was important, going as far as ‘My War’ (written by Chuck) and although you can feel the band tiring a little towards the end (‘I’ve Heard it Before’ isn’t quite as intense as it should be), the stamina they hold until that point is totally impressive. These are not young guys. These are people that started it all. Show them some fucking respect.