Monday, June 10, 2013

Punk Kingpins: Flag rages at Punk Rock Bowling in Vegas

Flag's Dez Cadena, Keith Morris and Stephen Egerton. (All Chris Shary photos)

By Greg Cameron

I was truly disappointed to have missed the "Black Flag" performance at the Goldenvoice 30th anniversary show in Santa Monica last year. When Flag announced that they were going to perform at Punk Rock Bowling and a few other shows in Europe this year, I was very excited that I might have the opportunity to see them. In fact, I immediately pitched the idea to them of performing at the venue I consider my second home here in Nevada City, CA. I also own and run the installed sound system in that venue, the Miners Foundry Cultural Center. So far, Flag seem to be on board with the concept, hopefully it will come to fruition soon.

In any case, I was going to forgo attending PRB in Las Vegas since I figured I'd see them in my own town soon enough. But then at the last minute, I had a change of heart. I really wanted to see my old friends whom I considered my second family for many years. And I wanted to see them perform the tunes that had so inspired me to play music myself. Tunes that conveyed the angst and lack of belonging to the mainstream that I identified with and that I still identify with even now. I was also considering it sort of a diplomatic "mission to Alderaan." I figure being there in person to hang out and reconnect with my longtime friends might inspire them to come play in my town even more. So I sent a few messages to arrange a pass, booked the flight, booked the room and headed out 24 hours later to the desert.

When I arrived on May 27, I headed off to what was the most punk rock hotel situation I had ever seen, The Golden Nugget. It was just a few blocks from the PRB concert stage, so it was the destination of most of the bands and attendees. I haven't seen that many mohawks in decades.

Egerton shreds it up.

I hooked up with longtime friend & artist Chris Shary. Chris has been doing the cover, t-shirt and flyer artwork for the Descendents & All as well as a plethora of other well-known bands for a long time. Of course, we immediately headed off to find coffee in the hotel. While having our coffee, we met up with Stephen Egerton, who I finally got to spend some time with catching up. Then a short time later, Bill Stevenson arrived for coffee before heading off to an interview. This was the second time I had seen Bill post-brain surgery to remove a literally grapefruit-sized tumor that was discovered right after a pulmonary embolism, which nearly killed him. The last time I saw Bill was a couple of years ago at FYF Fest in Los Angeles when the Descendents headlined. We didn't really have a chance to talk then, so we started catching up. We would do a lot more catching up after the show.

Bill and Stephen had the interview to do, so I met up with ex-bandmate and longtime friend Chuck Dukowski and his lovely wife Lora Norton, who also is the vocalist in the Chuck Dukowski Sextet. We had lunch and started catching up. Chuck is one of my favorite people on the planet. A genuinely good guy and sharp philosopher. He is also a prolific & talented songwriter. The record label he and his wife Lora run, Nice & Friendly, really is what the name implies. I have mostly Chuck to thank for my life in music aside from Bill and high school best friend Ray Cooper (former guitarist in the Descendents and SWA). Chuck & I started jamming together after he left Black Flag. I was the youngest of the SST crew and Chuck was truly like a big bother that invited me on the journey of a lifetime. It was an experience that shaped my life in ways that otherwise wouldn't have happened. Chuck was the "doer" that made things happen, a personal pillar of support and motivation.

Chuck Dukowski, the "doer."

After lunch, it was time to head over to the performance venue. So we met up with the rest of the band at the hotel and loaded them with their instruments into a taxi van. There wasn't enough room for everyone, so Lora and I walked the three blocks to the venue. We actually beat the other guys by five minutes. The taxi dropped them in the wrong spot. As usual for Vegas in the summer, it was hotter than balls. I'm a wuss when it comes to outdoor festival shows these days; I usually won't go anymore unless there's a backstage pass involved and a shaded area. I've attended Warped Tour and Hootenanny on several occasions as a regular attendee. I can't do it anymore. But even in the backstage band tent, it was like an oven. No A/C. I wonder if Devo, who headlined two nights prior, had to sit in the hot tent, too. I figured they'd get better accommodations. But then again, this is "punk rock bowling" and it should be fairly econo, right?

It was several hours until Flag's set, so Chris and I wandered into the concessions area for some caffeinated beverages. Chris got some sort of iced concoction, but I went for my usual: black coffee. A few folks were surprised I'd drink that in nearly 100-degree temperatures. But I live by the Black Flag beverage style as laid out in the tune "Black Coffee" regardless of weather conditions. I'll suffer for the juice. Chris and I caught some of the sets by D.R.I, Subhumans and the Casualties. Just like old times. I felt like I was back in the '80s. Except the PA sounded decent and the crowd control was well organized. There were a ton of people coming out of the pit with broken noses and blood all over them. Lots of sunburn, bruises and sweat. Tats and mohawks as far as the eye could see. I don't know how many folks were in attendance, but it was definitely over 10,000.

The energy for the Flag set was building, you could feel the tension and the excitement.

Morris in full rage mode.

As I spent time backstage, I got caught up with other longtime friends I hadn't seen in ages. Dez Cadena, Keith Morris and an introduction to Dimitri Coats, whom I hadn't yet met. Dimitri is managing Flag and plays guitar in OFF! along with Keith. Dimitri is also the person I'm nagging to arrange a Flag performance in Nevada City, though I told him I wouldn't nag him too much that night. And there were some other longtime SST friends to hang out with, too. Longtime friend Rob Holtzman who was Saccharine Trust's original drummer, as well as Jordan Schwartz & Raenie Kane who worked at SST for some time. They all made the trip from L.A. It felt like SST gigs of days gone by, which was nice considering the rifts that have formed since those days. It was also nice to see some old rifts mended, as Flag couldn't exist otherwise.

As set time for Flag approached, Chuck hit me up to play bass tech for the evening. Not a tough job as it basically involved wiring a couple of pieces of his rack gear to tie into the back line bass amp provided by the promoters. I was only too happy to oblige. And it gave me a good excuse to be on stage with the band when some others were getting booted off or pushed to the back of the stage in a less-than-ideal viewing situation. I made my way to monitor world and took up a position next to Gary Tovar. For those not knowledgeable of Gary, he's a co-founder of Goldenvoice who went from being a small L.A. punk rock promoter back in the '80s to one of the biggest concert promoters in North America. Gary is a true fan of the band as well as punk rock in general, and it was good see him there since he was very supportive of Black Flag and SST Records' efforts early on.

Stepping into it.

Flag hit the stage not like your typical polished rock acts of today where the techs get everything set up exactly the way the band wants it so they can step out on stage looking larger than life without a thing out of place. Quite the contrary. Flag came out like they were showing up at band practice. Bill arranged his drums and checked final tuning. I got Chuck's amp setup hooked up, but he plugged in his own bass and tweaked things the way he liked them. Same with Stephen and Dez. It took a bit of time to get the monitor mixes dialed up. Keith gave a little technical explanation to the crowd as to how Flag was getting their line check in and that they're not always able to get a full sound check, especially at these festival-style shows. Really, this is truly DIY punk rock, and it was happening at big outdoor show in front of a huge crowd. Like Mugger (aka Steve Corbin, former co-owner of SST & Black Flag roadie) would have said about 25 years ago, "this isn't Van Halen!"

After Flag was up and running, they came out with both barrels blazing in terms of energy. They broke right into "Revenge" and then segued into "Fix Me." Stephen and Bill delivered the power and tightness as members of the Descendents would. Chuck hammered on his bass as if it were a race horse fighting to the finish, just like the first time I saw him perform over 30 years ago. And Dez grinded out the rhythmic guitar wall of sound that the "Damaged"-album era of Black Flag was well known for. Keith, never one to not give it his all, was a vocal force. The classic Keith-era songs sounded like, well, Keith-era Flag. Full-tilt boogie and no holds barred. And the tunes he didn't record or perform had his signature style and spin.

Morris: going for it.

The crowd was digging it, the mosh pit was a-moshin'. I could see the crowd singing along with pretty much every song. But, of course, the classic "Six Pack" drew the most crowd vocal participation since it's probably the best known Black Flag song in the world next to "T.V. Party," which they didn't play. They played most of the tunes from the "Nervous Breakdown" and "Jealous Again" EPs. They covered quite a few of the tunes on "Damaged," as well. There was a bit of a false start for "Depression," which has a bit of a drawn-out beginning by nature. But hey, that's punk rock for ya. Keith sang the majority of the set, but Dez also switched from guitar duty to vocal duty and sang some of the tunes he had previously performed with Black Flag during his tenure on vocals such as "Thirsty & Miserable" and "American Waste." They also played a couple of mid-era Black Flag tunes that Chuck had written, "My War" and "I Love You." They blasted through the set, keeping it under an hour including the encore. In true Black Flag style, they finished the primary set with their rendition of "Louie Louie." And also in true endgame Black Flag style, they finished the encore with a more dirge-esque tune, "Damaged I."

Dukowski action.

It was a great night. You could feel the energy and the crowd anticipation was well rewarded. I don't think anyone went away dissatisfied, including the band. Nor me. Nor the guy that had to be taken away in an ambulance after he was pummeled in the pit. That guy refused to be treated until he got his picture with the band.

I'm really looking forward to seeing another Flag performance. With some luck, it will be here in my town and in my second home.

I see the world through/ Keith's eyes. (Chris Shary art)


  1. Incredible story. Great writing. I was there and the show was incredible. So much so that I decided not to go see Black Flag play in Chicago this weekend as planned because I did not want to spoil my memories of the Flag show.

  2. Greg great piece.I never got to see Black Flag cause I never started to go to shows until 86.However, your piece captures the essence of the scene just about anywhere. It is about relationships. Scenes were scenes cause of the people and most of the time you had access to the bands who also hung out when they came to town. I'm excited to see Flag when they come to my neck of the woods.First, just to finally see Flag and second to see the people who would only come out to a Flag show.It's been a long time commin'.

  3. Nailed it Greg. I Love You was icing on the cake. I have been lobbying Stephen for What I See

  4. Thanks for the positive comments. I don't consider myself a writer by any stretch, but I made my best attempt.