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Friday, May 30, 2014

Black Flag: Who's Got The 10 1/2?


1) Loose Nut; 2) I'm The One; 3) Annihilate This Week; 4) Wasted; 5) Bastard In Love; 6) Modern Man; 7) This Is Good; 8) In My Head; 9) Sinking; 10) Jam; 11) The Best One Yet; 12) My War; 13) Slip It In / Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie; 14) Drinking And Driving; 15) Louie Louie.

At the time when this live album was released (March 1986; the actual show was played in Port­land in August 1985), Black Flag were still a functional unit, and would remain that way until August 1986, when Ginn broke up the band: as it seems, he was simply fed up with stuff, and de­cided to explode it before genuine stagnation would set in. The scenario is well confirmed by this live album — in terms of production, energy, and tightness, if not necessarily the setlist material, it is arguably their most successful statement of live power.

The original single LP was later expanded to include most, if not all, of the show, so that the latest CD edition includes over an hour of material. The setlist includes nearly all of Loose Nut, with the exception of ʽNow She's Blackʼ — not because of political correctness, of course, but because the song's author, drummer Bill Stevenson, was no longer with the band at the time, re­placed by the less «brutal», but more polished Anthony Martinez. There are also a few previews from the yet unreleased In My Head (including some of its best tracks, such as ʽDrinking And Drivingʼ); a few scattered reminiscences from the 1984 albums; and virtually nothing from Da­maged, except for ʽGimmie Gimmie Gimmieʼ, reworked into a rather silly «comical» sex-based performance in which we learn that, of all people, it is Kira who got the 10½ — gender discourse in a hardcore paradigm can be a terrifying thing.

Not having a huge lot to say about the studio counterparts of these songs, I certainly have even less to say about the live renditions — except that the band is tight, playing most of the songs at slightly speedier tempos, with the new drummer keeping everything in good shape and Henry trying to actually sing wherever some singing is required. On a whim, I'd also say that there is a little less «sludge» to Ginn's guitar playing live than there was in the studio; this means that, if any of those albums gave you a headache, there is no harm in trying out the live equivalent with its ever so «thinner» guitar sound, if only a little bit. There is a four-minute ʽJamʼ there which is quite skippable (just Ginn trying out a bunch of ideas or what looks like ideas), but other than that and the dubious inch-measuring game played by Henry, it's just song after song of solid late pe­riod Black Flag material. And, for dessert, a Black Flag-style ʽLouie Louieʼ which you can pro­bably imagine how it goes even without hearing it.

In short, it isn't exactly like Loose Nut — the new drummer kicks tighter ass, and the guitars buzz and squeal instead of growling and howling, so there's no harm in comparing the two and deci­ding for yourself what kind of sound you like best. Personally, I might even prefer the live stuff, but even if not, it still deserves a thumbs up, simply for the sake of being the tightest, most fo­cused, clenched-teeth-disciplined live album from these guys ever. This is as «un-sloppy» a hard­core record as hardcore ever gets. No wonder they exploded after that — too much discipline tends to overload the engine.

Check "Who's Got The 10 1/2?" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Who's Got The 10 1/2?" (MP3) on Amazon

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