It was a slow, ambling, unsteady exodus out of the outdoor festival for Punk Rock Bowling last night. The attendees had just completed a three-day live punk marathon at the makeshift venue, to say nothing of the ancillary late-night shows — many of which sold out, and some of which saw secondary ticket prices climb into the triple digits — and the scene wasn't pretty. "Man, tomorrow is gonna hurt," said one dude to his buddy, who responded by saying, "So will Thursday."
Fans were so tired, they began leaving en masse before Sunday headliner Flag — comprised of some of the original members of pioneering SoCal punk/hardcore band Black Flag, and Stephen Egerton of The Descendents — had even finished its main set, and several more all but fled during its less-than-rousing encore, which, ironically, the remaining attendees brought on through a chant over the house music.
Frankly, I could have bailed once the quintet played "Rise Above," the most full-throated and passionate performance of the not-exactly-an-hour set. It would have been the perfect closer, the band already having ably executed and delighted the crowd with faster-paced and traditional Black Flag favorites like "Wasted" (which Egerton, in one of his many shining moments, kicked off with some Chuck Berry-style boogie), "Gimme Gimme Gimme" (which was nicely segued from "No More") and "Six Pack" (which was fronted by vocalist-turned-guitarist Dez Cadena). Primary (and founding) singer Keith Morris held his own; while relatively uncharismatic, and often plagued with a poorly mixed mic (bassist Chuck Dukowski also was barely heard), he nonetheless projected with vigor and sincerity. All in all, a big win for the largely older punk audience. At one point, a guy to my left leaned over, smiling broadly, and said to me, "I can't believe I'm watching this."
(By the way, this isn't the only manifestation of Black Flag currently operating. Founding guitarist/songwriter Greg Ginn has assembled a quartet under the actual band name, with one-time vocalist Ron Reyes on lead. Perhaps Punk Rock Bowling can book Black Flag for 2014, so we can compare the two bands. I suspect few beyond the Ginn haters would complain.)
Sonically speaking, Flag sat in between the two bands that preceded it on the schedule. Subhumans veered toward the hardcore sound, though it remained very steeped in traditional British punk. Singer Dick Lucas moved around like he had knocked back one two many, but was otherwise on point vocally, and when delivering his anarchic political screeds. He bemoaned modern technology, the media, animal cruelty by beauty product testers, spirituality (see closer "Religious Wars," which drew the loudest cheers of the set), and, during the song "No," pretty much everything else in modern society.
On the other side of the hardcore spectrum was Houston thrash act D.R.I., a foursome with a pronounced emphasis on metal, especially given the prominence of Spike Cassidy's guitar licks and Rob Rampy's kickdrum. The band does some interesting tempo-shifting, while often thumbing its nose at established song structures — which differentiated D.R.I. from most of the acts on the PRB bill, and also meant songs occasionally meandered. I wasn't the only person D.R.I. lost: Half the crowd cheered along, and the other half visibly tuned out. Given the onlookers' audible prediliction toward the anthemic numbers of any given performing band, it wasn't a surprise to see so many of them focus instead on their concert companions or cell phones during the set. Imagine if Flag, a likely inspiration for D.R.I., had chosen to prioritize its own metal-flirting material. Maybe that mass exodus would have happened sooner.