It’s been over five years since reunited, seminal west coast hardcore outfit Black Flag last played Nashville, and a whopping 35 years since their last show before that. Formed in their youth way back in the ’70s, the group, who had a ton of members in their initial decade-long run, commanding a cult following in their day, and only managed to become more iconic and influential in the years after their 1986 split, making the hope of a reunion, despite chilly relationships and a general sense of disinterest between many key members, a long-running wish from fans. A handful of one-offs in the early ’00s notwithstanding, it wasn’t until 2013 that Black Flag roared back to life, albeit it with a retooled lineup anchored by guitarist and founder Greg Ginn. The new Black Flag released an LP and went on tour, then largely fell silent, until returning once more last year for a world tour, extending into 2020 with a long-overdue Music City return, this time at Cannery Ballroom tonight, Jan. 30 with folk punk troubadour Matthew Ryan and ska/punk turned hardcore outfit The Linecutters. Though they haven’t released any new music yet this run, we suspect most Black Flag fans want to hear the old stuff anyway, and that kind of nostalgia is still in full effect, even if a few of the group’s most recognizable former members are no longer involved (current singer Mike Vallely was never in the band pre-reunion, but has his own punk bona fides). Fans of classic punk will want to grab tickets right here while they last, then read on for more about the show!
Here’s what you need to know about hardcore punk legends Black Flag in 2014: after their initial split in 1986, the group’s many, many members of varying degrees of importance went on to form and join countless other musical projects, with most prominent and final frontman Henry Rollins garnering the greatest post-breakup success. In 2013, the band reformed, with only guitarist Greg Ginn remaining from its early days. This version of the band put out one album, What The…, that same year with vocalist Ron Reyes, before shedding a few more members and restructuring for a new tour (another group of former Black Flag members reformed around the same time, and have been touring under the name “Flag,” making this all the more confusing; neither group features Rollins, however). After swapping vocalists for Mike Vallely, who first joined the band for a few songs at a reunion show way back in ’03, Black Flag made their return to Nashville for the first time in 30 years back in 2014, part of a run which saw this incarnation of Black Flag go dormant again by the end of the tour. Now half a decade later, Black Flag have returned once more, winding up with some international and festival dates in early 2019, before hitting the road for a massive run of shows stateside throughout the second half of last year. Thankfully, the group are set to continue into the new year with a winter trek of additional dates, retuning them to Music City for the first time in more than five years, this time in the slightly larger space at Cannery Ballroom. Ginn is still the band’s anchor, and Vallely remains the vocalist, but drummer Isaias Gil, bassist Joseph Noval, and touring guitarist Alan Windler are all fresh faces.
Sans Keith Morris (who now fronts Flag), Ron Reyes (whose vocals remain on what is still the band’s most recent LP), or Henry Rollins (still the most famous and frequently associated former member, despite not being a founding one), the new millennium’s Black Flag might never quite truly feel like the legendary group, who initially formed in 1976 in Hermosa Beach, CA (under the name “Panic” until ’78), and became one of the most important and iconic American hardcore acts of the ’80s (and one who’s logo and iconography has inexplicably managed to permeate the culture as much if not more than their music). However, given the unlikelihood of a more complete or original lineup ever coming together in this capacity again, this Black Flag is still the closest thing around, and still the best way to hear those classic tunes performed live, whether you’re a longtime fan who’s been jonesing for years, or a new one young enough to have never had the chance to see the band when they were first active. And regardless of their ability to pass a hardline punk purity test, this is still the legendary Black Flag, and given their intermittent history, we’d recommend any punk fan make their return to town a must-see show!
Pennsylvania raised, Nashville based folk punk singer-songwriter Matthew Ryan sprung onto the scene with his 1997 debut May Day, amassing a cult following and critical adoration in the alt country singer-songwriter soon. Though not as overtly punk (or hardcore) rooted as Black Flag, Ryan has always possessed a scrapper, rootsy, punk spirit in the tradition of acts like the Descendents, and over the decades has settled into something of a troubadour, crafting a vast and impressive output of solo and collaborative efforts. In recent years especially, Ryan has seen something of a renaissance, reaching a wider audience with 2014 effort Boxer, and tapping Gaslight Anthem singer (and fellow heartland punk standout) Brian Fallon for 2016’s Hustle Up Starlings. As Nashville seems to be Ryan’s current base of operations, this should be a particular special show, so be sure to show up and support this underrated and earnest punk gem!
Hailing from Phoenix adjacent Gilbert, Arizona, The Linecutters, who first came together in 2013, play a unique fusion of ska/punk and hardcore. While their earlier efforts had more in common with the more punk-skewing ska of decades’ past, the band have evolved into a faster, more aggressive and metallic hardcore group with a sound an intensity music more in line with Black Flag than, say, Less Than Jake. A cool choice to open things up, if this band hasn’t come onto your radar yet, be sure to arrive early and check them out!
Black Flag, Matthew Ryan, and The Linecutters will perform tonight, Jan. 30 at Cannery Ballroom. The show is 18+, begins at 8 p.m. (doors at 7 p.m.), and tickets are available to purchase for $25.