Friday, 6 November 2009

Black Flag 'Who's Got the 10½?' (1985)


Roll call:
Greg Ginn - Mahavishnu improv-punk, dissonant garrote strings
Henry Rollins - Banshee razor throat, vox of conscience
Kira Roessler - Bump buh bum bu bump buh, (see album title)
Anthony Martinez (RIP B. Stevenson) - machine gun allfiller/timekiller

One of me favourite albums (and a live one at that!) period, been meaning to share it f'some time. Ripped from CD (how quaint!). Rollins didn't write any of these songs, but he is on form here, spitting fire and making every lyric his own - if you know the guy you'll know that they might as well have been.
I can't think of any other bands who provoked this white-knuckle rapture of tight-wound, late-night sobriety and damning isolation. It's violent catharsis. A band where the guitarist plays lead and rhythm simultaneously!
True, the post-Damaged era of Sabbath/free jazz-inspired sludgecore yielded some seminal albums that would essentially be responsible for the grunge movement (as I and the 'key players' see it) and an anti-scene vision/work ethic that goes above and beyond the narrow strictures of 'punk' of early 80's west coast US; BUUUT one might argue that the muddy/downright awful/yet-to-be-remastered (come on Ginn, ya c*nt!) production on most of those albums never truly represented the explosive/implosive experience of LIVE Black Flag.

1984's live effort, their only truly inconsequential record, was an example of just about everything going pear-shaped as a recording and as a poorly-mixed slab o' Flag.
Black Flag lived on the road, they played anywhere anytime and, by all accounts, always delivered. A performance band, then. See the Youchoobs for prüf. They developed their sound on the road and through the cassettes played on the van's tape deck. In this van Ginn wrote his lyrics, which set up camp behind Rollins' increasingly misanthropic and punishing thousand-yard stare. They saw The Shit all over and they called it, that's the young man's duty.

And since the Flag were a band that worked more live than in any other medium, thank ___ they left us with a perfect snapshot of their final peak; before the as-yet unexplained animosity of Greg Ginn towards Rollins could sever an already frayed and exhausted relationship. Personally I suspect it was a clash between Ginn's psychotropic use (hear it in the music, the 70's influence) and Rollins' heart-of-stone sober focus. Ginn's music after Flag was, unsurprisingly, mainly jazz fusion guitar jams.

But here on 10½ we gots all the innovations of 80s Flag: the fucked-up time signatures, the anti-solos, fronted by a caged animal, ever-lengthening hair... and the ability to conjure a leaden heart in three chords like no other band on earth. These were never your average L.A. punk wasters. As for more contemporaneous influences they were in good company on Ginn's SST with post-punk expansionists Minutemen, Meat Puppets... you can hear the soundemolitions of their beloved Einstürzende Neubauten in here too.
The extensive setlist is not slim on the old anthemiklassix either - there's the customary freakout stoner jam (what better way to stick it to the skinheads?) and medley, you'll love it if you have ears and any small measure of righteous anger.
I could write endlessly about this record, its relevance to me personally, its meaning to other musicians and how BF were one of the few that 'rose above' (hurrrr) the surrounding pond life-smegma of La-La Swamp. Are you sick of the swamp and its revolting fumes? You aren't the only one. Join yourself!


[R][R][R] said...

What a Fuckin' Great Album!!!
I bought the CD version.

Anonymous said...

a very fine tribute to a great band. many thanks