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Friday, May 9, 2014

Black Flag: Live '84

BLACK FLAG: LIVE '84 (1984)

1) The Process Of Weeding Out; 2) Nervous Breakdown; 3) I Can't Decide; 4) Slip It In; 5) My Ghetto; 6) Black Coffee; 7) I Won't Stick Any Of You Unless And Until I Can Stick All Of You; 8) Forever Time; 9) Fix Me; 10) Six Pack; 11) My War; 12) Jealous Again; 13) I Love You; 14) Swinging Man; 15) Three Nights; 16) Nothing Left In­side; 17) Wound Up; 18) Rat's Eyes; 19) The Bars.

As if three studio albums weren't enough, the hyper-prolific year of 1984 ended with Black Flag summarizing all their latest achievements with a live recording — generated in some seedy Frisco nightclub and initially released only in cassette format; the CD version dates from 1998, when Ginn remixed the album and, as the rumor goes, seriously «doctored» the sound, although you'd need the original tape to verify that piece of vile slander.

Unless you are a master veteran with grizzled-sizzled ears, it is probably not recommendable to listen to the entire record in one go; it takes 75 minutes to finish, and 75 minutes of the Black Flag schtick, particularly post-Damaged, is quite a heavy attack on the senses. No shit — the very first track is an extended take on the EP-only ʽProcess Of Weeding Outʼ: eight and a half minutes of Ginn's «atonal» soloing, next to which an equally extended Frank Zappa guitar jam sounds like Bacharach. This is as welcomish a welcome as this band gets, and although the run­ning lengths of inidivudual songs start dropping down after that, it hardly ever gets easier.

The setlist is predictably dominated by recent stuff: much, if not most, of My War and Slip It In are reproduced, with only a few nods to the first four years and, most surprising of all, almost nothing carried over from Damaged — in particular, the absence of ʽDamagedʼ itself, or of ʽRise Aboveʼ, cannot be regarded as unintentional: clearly, these guys must have known what was their fans' favorite record, and clearly, that was the one record stuff from which they were the most reluctant to play. Of course, you don't have to love it, but you gotta have respect for the gall.

Since most of the songs were still fresh in the players' minds, there is not a whole lot of difference between their studio and live incarnations: if anything, the biggest wonder is that they can keep it up live for such a long time, without Ginn's crazy fingers or Henry's rabid bark giving way even once, as they deliver perfectly professional facsimiles of their latest creations. The sound quality, at least on the remastered version (I have seen people seriously complaining about the original cassette), is actually very good, so that you even get to hear the subtlety of the rhythm session — no nitpicking here on my side, at least.

That said, I must note that Live '84 does not have the proper feel of a live album; surprisingly enough, it is the club environment (normally an ideal setting for a live record) that may be res­ponsible for this — there is almost no audible audience reaction throughout, possibly because there was only a couple of stragglers, accidentally dropping in to catch this weird band in action, and without the audience reaction, it just feels like a reduplication of studio work. In fact, I'd say that on a record like this, a few spoken word poetry fragments from Rollins would not be so much out of place as they were on Family Man — at least it'd have given the album more of an actual stage feeling (provided there would be no overdoing it).

On the technical side, if you are interested in checking out post-Damaged Black Flag, but abhor the idea of sitting through all of their LPs from 1984, the live album is a faithful enough «abrid­ged» introduction into the band's fantasy world around that time. You know what they say — a spoonful of Ginn a day helps keep bourgeois rot away. But no more than one spoonful, or you might get geographical displacement syndrome.

Check "Live '84" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Live '84" (MP3) on Amazon

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