Black Flag and the Five Most Insulting Punk 'Reunions' of All Time
On Monday, a band calling itself Black Flag is going to set up and play some tunes at Walters Downtown. For some of us, this is a pretty big deal. If you were too young or two fucked-up to remember the legendary L.A. punks' storied early-'80s heyday, this gig likely represents your most legitimate shot in 30 years at catching the band that launched 1,000 tattoos.
This is what Black Flag looks like in 2013.
While this group has got the name and the founder -- the incendiary, priggish Greg Ginn -- in place, they're not the only loose nuts banging out Black Flag's damaged anthems on tour these days. Another group of SST expatriates calling itself FLAG is also traveling the country, offering up its own version of punk nostalgia. After three decades of nothing, why are we now getting not one, but two Black Flag reunions?
Put simply, it's because a lot of people are ready and willing to trade fistfuls of cash to see them again.
Thanks to the Internet, it's now easier than ever before to hunt down punk-rock staples that were once the sole domain of grungy record shops, and the legend of acts like Black Flag has grown considerably in the past 15 years. They're not the only punks flogging the nostalgia circuit, either: Everybody from Negative Approach to Youth of Today has reunited in recent years to cash in with growing audiences. At one time, punk rock didn't pay, but those days are long over.
A few of these tours have been triumphs, but a lot of them have sucked pretty badly. For one thing, a lot of these bands could barely play during the first go-round. It's a sure bet that hundreds of punks will turn out on Monday to find out if Black Flag mk. IX retains any spark of the original, but there are enough failed cash grabs in recent years to give one pause. Here are five of the absolute worst.
5. The Germs
Formed in 1977 in the midst of punk rock's original Golden Age, Los Angeles' the Germs were the first American band to push the genre into a harder, more chaotic direction that would soon come to be termed "hardcore" punk. Fronted by the epically wasted singer Darby Crash -- often tabbed as L.A.'s answer to Sid Vicious -- the Germs made a nasty impression on all those who witnessed them, many of whom went out and started their own bands.
After releasing a single, epochal album, GI, in '79, the whole thing ended in perhaps the only way it ever could've. Darby Crash took his own life with a massive dose of heroin, as he'd often promised to do. Guitarist Pat Smear went on to far greater notoriety many years later, playing with Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, and the Germs calcified into a fascinating footnote in punk history.
That footnote was reexamined in 2007, when the film What We Do is Secret was made starring ER hunk Shane West as Crash. To help promote the film (or something), the surviving Germs reformed to play some shows with West on vocals. Then they just sort of... kept at it, serving time on consecutive Warped Tours.
In some ways, the new Germs were truly improved. They weren't completely fucked up on drugs, for one thing, and had learned to play their instruments. But the destructive insanity upon which the Germs had made a name for themselves was long gone, along with the fascinating, self-immolating weirdo who had served as the band's face, voice and mascot. In his place was a Hollywood pretty boy playing a role. Like so many reunions to come, it was a transparent cash-in that had nothing to do with the band's legacy and everything to do with making a little scratch.
4. Dead Kennedys
Punk bands don't get much more legendary than San Francisco's Dead Kennedys. Led by a visionary, incendiary dick calling himself Jello Biafra, the DKs made great tunes and toured them all over the country, ingraining an in-your-face DIY ethic into the nascent hardcore movement. In the process, they became the closest thing to "rock stars" that the scene had.
After a brilliant run of recordings and performances between '78 and '86, the band had become disillusioned with what they saw as the spread of hooliganism in hardcore punk. Sadly, they split up amidst interpersonal strife and legal woes. Things would grow nasty after the band won a $220,000 judgement against Biafra in the late '90s over royalties owed by his record label, Alternative Tentacles.
The bad blood seemed to doom any hope of a reunion, especially given Biafra's outspoken disdain for nostalgia. In 2001, former members East Bay Ray, DH Peligro and Klaus Flouride decided to get together without Jello and make a few bucks. Enlisting former Dr. Know singer Brandon Cruz to front the effort, the group started out promoting themselves as the DK Kennedys to avoid potential confusion and legal hassles, but quickly opted to drop that moniker and continue on as the Dead Kennedys, touring the world.
The interest was there and the shows weren't bad, but there can be no Dead Kennedys without Jello Biafra. Every time the band took the stage without him, it served mostly as a disappointing reminder that the DKs couldn't get along anymore, and probably never would again. In his typically biting way, Biafra disparaged the group as "the world's greediest karaoke band," and it's hard to deny his point.
List continues on the next page.