Black Flag is coming to Cincinnati this summer. But if you haven't kept up with the Black Flag saga over the past 30-plus years, it might not be the Punk Rock juggernaut you're thinking of. Innovative guitarist Greg Ginn — who founded the band 43 years ago — reformed the group in 2013, released a new album, What The…, and has been touring under the name, but no one else from 20th-century Black Flag is in 21st-century Black Flag.
2019 Black Flag — featuring skateboard hero Mike Vallely on vocals — will play Riverfront Live (the former Annie's on Kellogg Ave.) on Aug. 10 at 8 p.m. with guests The Line Cutters. Tickets are available beginning Friday, March 22 at 10 a.m. via Ticketweb for $25.
Black Flag not having the same lineup it did decades ago shouldn't be a surprise to longtime fans or those hip to the group's often contentious history. The singer most identified with Black Flag is Henry Rollins, who is the voice behind the band's most well-known recordings; Rollins was in the group from 1981 through 1986, appearing on the classic Damaged debut full-length and cult classics like My War and Slip It In. But Rollins was the band's fourth lead singer, following original member Keith Morris (of Circle Jerks), Ron Reyes and Dez Cadena, all of whom had recorded earlier versions of some of the best-known Damaged tracks.
The rest of the Black Flag family tree includes several other notable names, members who joined for a brief spell before splitting off: Chuck Biscuits (drummer for Danzig, D.O.A., Social Distortion and others); Kira Roessler (who formed the two-basses duo Dos with Mike Watt); Raymond Pettibon (BF's original bassist and Ginn's brother, better known for doing BF's logo and most of its iconic artwork); and Bill Stevenson, drummer and main songwriter behind another legendary Punk group, Descendents.
Besides the continually rotating lineup (and not completely unrelated), Black Flag's history is littered with stories of intraband turmoil and conflict, even leading up to its modern-day iteration. When Ginn reformed the band in 2013, he enlisted former singer Ron Reyes. That same year, Ginn sued Flag, the band featuring Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski and Bill Stevenson, for touring using the Black Flag name and logo; Ginn (and his label, the revolutionary but, of course, controversial, SST Records) also sued Rollins and Morris over their alleged attempts to get the trademarks for Black Flag's name and logo.
Then even later in 2013, in a mutinous move, Vallely jumped on stage during a concert in Australia, took the mic from Reyes and sang the last two songs of the set. It ended up being Reyes' last show with the band and Vallely took over full-time vocal duties (Reyes said there'd been too much tension and was leaving; Vallely sang previously with Black Flag during a one-off 2003 reunion show). Bassist Tyler Smith and drummer Brandon Pertzborn also joined the group in 2014 and, as of this writing, are listed as the current rhythm section.
Though 21st-century Black Flag has been panned by critics and some fans, it's hard to deny the influence of the band's classic material, which shaped modern Punk Rock and was a big inspiration for artists in various other genres, especially Grunge.