In February, I was approached by Joey Running Crane of King Elephant and asked if my band Shramana wanted to perform a cover set at the VFW as part of his band’s residency. Without thinking, I instinctually replied that we would perform the music of Black Flag.
Black Flag, the legendary '80s hardcore punk band, is a touchy subject with many people, myself included. As a “punk as f*” teen, the early Black Flag releases were a staple in my musical diet. They were just what I needed: simple, fast and straightforward, with songs that truly represented the angsty spirit associated with punk: Nervous Breakdown, Fix Me, Depression, Clocked In, and I’ve Had It! were anthems known by any kid worth their weight in spikes and silly hair. As any young person can tell you, trying to figure out who exactly you are and defining your relation to the rest of the world can be a daunting task in a world that places such strange emphases on individuality without ever actually defining it. Listening to Black Flag’s The First Four Years (and a lot of underage drinking) helped me through it.
Unlike many bands that I listened to at that time, however, they’ve grown with me over the years. Founder/guitarist/only consistent member Greg Ginn recruited Henry Rollins as Black Flag’s singer in 1981. With Ginn’s rise of cannabis consumption compiled with his increasingly reclusive behavior, the band began to release their LPs. Their first, Damaged, was simply an evolution of their earlier material, but one could see a significant shift in songwriting. As the full length releases rolled out of Ginn’s DIY label SST Records, Rollins’ lyrics became markedly more morose, introspective and self-loathing than outwardly aggressive. The songs slowed down to a thudding, Sabbath-influenced crawl and became a distorted lament of confusion and anger. There were still fast punk songs, but they were meandering, THC influenced improvisations by Ginn that guitar-tablatuers for UltimateGuitar.com are still “banging their heads against a wall” trying to figure out.
When I came of age and began to play music of my own, the musical insightfulness of Ginn and sharp poetic language of Rollins began to speak to me more than the alcoholic nihilism of Morris and Dukowski. This music guided me to what I enjoy and practice currently, taking cues from the Melvins (who wore their late Black Flag influences on their sleeves and spray painted on their first tour van) and p l a y I n g s l o w a n d h e a v y.
Black Flag has come into the spotlight again, as Greg Ginn has jump-started the group and released a new album, with miserably poor results. He was a little late to the party, however, as his previous bandmates have already been touring as the popular group FLAG, covering the material of Black Flag. Ginn unsuccessfully indicted them in a case for copyright infringement. How very DIY of them all. Watching this debacle is like watching two old, diseased cats fight over the empty can of tuna.
While curating the Facebook event page for our upcoming performances, a colleague teasingly asked me, “Are you guys going to be a Black Flag tribute band or a FLAG tribute band?”
I hadn’t really considered.
I’ve always considered Shramana a unit based on personal growth (the name translates as “one who strives”); we only knew two covers in our three years in existence prior to being asked to play an hour set of non-original material. Curious, I set about asking my friends what Black Flag songs they would want to hear. I expected their picks from the discography to vary slightly, but they didn’t. Everyone just wanted to hear the same six punk songs from the first few EPs. Then I remembered: Shramana is a unit based on personal growth. The full-length releases of Black Flag contributed to my growth and the growth of the genre I so love more than any other band one could care to name. Our cover set has evolved from a few punk rock covers to a thudding, distorted sludge-fest of spacey doom contrasted with fast-paced aggression.
I hate to say it, but Ginn’s attempt to continue his legacy in Black Flag is embarrassing even for a fan to watch, and about as cheap as the crowd of ex-members cashing in on the same legacy. Would I see either if I had a chance? You bet your sweet patootie. But to speak the truth, I love this legacy for what it was, not what it has become. I’m proud to have been able to take what I love and re-imagine it in our own way.
Shramana can be seen performing their Black Flag Live ’85 set on Thursday and Friday night this week at Ole Beck VFW Post 209.
UPDATE: If you want to see the Halloween dinner theater production of The Woman in Black at The Keep you have to get your tickets today by 5 PM.
Last night's show was spooky and fun. If you love Wuthering Heights or any other eerie old-timey book/BBS television series, you'll dig this. Your last chance to see it is Halloween, this Thu., Oct. 31. The night starts with a dinner at 6 PM followed by a presentation of The Woman in Black. $50. Call 406.728.7529 or visit mctinc.org for ticket info by 5 PM today.
I've been searching for some of the most terrifying ghost stories in existence. The ones told best under a blanket with just a flashlight. Or inside an abandoned building, huddled around a jug of Carlo Rossi. You know The Golden Arm where the storyteller says, "Have you seen my golden arm. Have you seen MY GOLDEN ARM?" Over and over before grabbing the person next to them and yelling, "You've got it!" Or the story of the singing bone. Or one of the Grimm's Fairytales where young children have been murdered and buried in the yard, only to come back to haunt the perpetrator. I don't think I made that one up.
In any case, tonight you can get lost in a fantastic ghost story called The Woman in Black, when you head down to the Zootown Arts Community Center for the 7:30 PM show. The play, directed by Andy Meyers, is an Out of the Box Production from MCT inc. It's a version of the novella by Susan Hill. In the original story, a young lawyer tries to put a deceased old woman's affairs in order at a place called Nine Lives Causeway, which is surrounded by marshes and the sea. High tide isolates the estate, ominously called the Eel Marsh House. (I would never go there, would you? But poor sods from stories always do foolish things.) There is a woman in black who wonders the place, and for a long time we know nothing of who she is. In the play version, the audience gets to hear the whole story told from the lawyers point-of-view, years later, in a story-within-a-story scenario.
As with any ghost tale, you must get yourself in the mood. This is a good one. It'll get you in the spirit of the season.
The show, we are told, is not for children.
The Woman in Black shows at the Zootown Arts Community Center tonight, Oct. 27, and again at The Keep, Oct. 31, at 7:30 PM both nights. The performance at the Keep includes a 6 PM dinner. call 406.728.7529 or visit mctinc.org for ticket info.
Grunt, a Great Falls/Missoula band, have been plying their grindy hardcore for a couple years now, as far as we can tell. They emerged from the ashes of the short-lived Semen Segal who I think we can say without any need for challenge are the only Montana band who ever covered Caustic Christ. Missoula's Eat Records put out a 7" and the band immediately broke up, or perhaps they were already broken up, and the 7" got released as a posthumous deal. Regardless, Eat curates a pretty good and eclectic set of releases and makes me appreciate the little weird underground pockets in Missoula. That record's definitely still in print, if you were wondering.
That there's extreme music coming from Great Falls makes me happy on a Friday. The other thing that makes me happy is the ambition these guys are displaying. They're currently planning a tour, regularly travel around the state for DIY shows, and played Billings' Richard Dreyfest, with great bands like Mr. Dad and Noise Noise Noise, and are recording regularly. Here's a link to Grunt's demo tape.
Three final notes:
1) Marcus Swafford from Mahamawaldi plays bass for them.
2) Grunt releases a 12" at their show on October 19th.
3) That October 19th show is with Kylesa, Pinkish Black and Sierra at the Palace Lounge. Grunt play at 9PM.
Missoula band Oll Breds quietly released a digital album called Charm right in time for their Total Fest appearance at Free Cycles. Since I came of age going to see music in the late '80s and '90s and apparently need a jewel case and abt. 4 oz. of plastic accompanying every piece of music I own, I hadn't really dug into the thing but cursorily until now. It's friggin' good!
You can buy it for free. Which means they trust that you'll contribute what you can. A baffling concept again for me, but hey man, it's the 2000s, right? Enough, though, about me and my need for physical media and currency exchange. Oll Breds, man. This is the band to watch as they play house shows and punk shows and shows period. Just two pieces, guitar/drums and vocals but a surprisingly full-sounding outfit. Pop music and rock and roll focused hard on the songs and vibe, and charmingly without the marketing/fame-ambition that seems to kind of spoil stuff.
This song in particular had a kind of Robert Pollard/GBV vibe, without that uh, haughty or sort of English thing he does. I mean, I get the shallowness of needing to compare constantly, but simultaneously man, a person needs his or her reference points. And certainly Guided By Voices got compared plenty to others.
Here's When Yer Down.
They play tonight, incidentally (October 16, 8PM) at the ZACC Below, 235 N. 1st West, which is the basement there at the Zootown Arts Community Center. You get in through the ZACC's wooden stairs off the back parking lot. It's all ages. If you're under age 14, the show's free for you. If you're 15+, it's $6 at the door. The Bugs and Mountain Shark play too.
If you haven't heard of the Underground Studio Showcase, you are forgiven. Underground events tend to be this way: by word-of-mouth, and a little secretive. The one hour showcase, hosted by Amy Ragsdale of Headwaters Dance Co., takes place in her dance studio behind her home, and it happens only twice a year, once in the Spring and once in the Fall. And it can be anything from dance to theater to music to literary readings. The studio provides an intimate setting—it seats only 40 people, and performers are often in the middle of the room, making it feel cozy, giving you a chance to see various angles of a performance. Though it's not spontaneous it feels spontaneous, like you're in someone's living room and suddenly a person shows up to entertain the guests.
One of my favorites was in Feb. 2012 when Brian Gerke and Steinunn Ketilsdóttir performed a dance piece that entailed them locking mouths—jaws nearly unhinged—and moving together as they breathed into each other's bodies. It was strange and magical, and it induced a sense of urgency since they were breathing rapidly. These showcases are good for seeing experimental artists and favorite local artists showing off their talents in this intimate little space.
Past performers have included dancers from Headwaters Dance Co. and Bare Bait Dance; writers like Fred Haefele, Caroline Patterson, Judy Blunt, Josh Slotnick and Melissa Mylchreest; and music from the Floating Feather Ensemble, Ouzel, the Tuesday Night Flute Club, the Montana Womens Chorus and the Childbloom Guitar Ensemble.
Tonight's show offers dance from Headwaters Dance Co. who will be presenting two pieces from their upcoming concert; a performance from comediennes Teresa Waldorf and Rosie Ayers who are presenting "Lucinda and Lulinda, the Home Shopping Girls"; and writer Kim Zupan, best known for his short stories about Montana. And there's wine and cheese.
Headwaters Dance Co. presents: The Fall Underground Studio Showcase, Friday, Oct. 11, at 7:30 PM. $5 at the door. Performance is at Headwaters' Home Studio (go to www.headwatersdance.net for street address) or contact Amy Ragsdale, 728-1131, firstname.lastname@example.org. Get there early. Seating is limited to 40. No reservations.