Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Black Flag - Who's Got The 10 1/2

One of my greatest regrets is not taking the trip to my future public university community to see Black Flag in concert.

Shortly before I attended the University of Northern Iowa, I heard that Black Flag was playing in Cedar Falls. Me and another high school friend entertained the idea of the three hour drive just to see the band, but both of us chickened out.

You have to understand, this was before the days of the internet. Our information on punk rock in Iowa was limited, and as far as we knew, Black Flag was still churning out live shows that ended in riots and police clubbings.

This was something we weren’t used to in my small town surroundings, and as silly as it seems, Cedar Falls looked like a big city in our small town eyes.

Of course, once I finally moved there, I saw how small the community really was and I endured countless recollections by older college students of “the time Black Flag played at the boathouse.” Additionally, Joe Cole’s posthumous book referred to the city in fairly uneventful terms, but the referral itself was enough for me to be envious.

The other reason for not attending was because I wasn’t a fan of the band that Black Flag had become later in their career. I’m sure I’m not alone on this, and I now am able to appreciate what they became, even if I didn’t necessarily enjoy it as much as the life-changing effort Damaged.

This all came to an end, and my failure to travel to the Cedar Falls gig was recalled the day my cousin brought a tape of a live Black Flag show from a few years prior to my missed date.

The tape-only release (at that time) was Who’s Got The 10 ½, an inside joke that reportedly caused bassist Kira to end her tenure with the road dogs.
Upon first listen, you can hear what guitarist Greg Ginn must have been attempting to achieve with its blend of punk rock, heavy metal, and free-jazz chaos.

Throughout the hour long effort, Ginn hits his solos with manic abandon, caring little for melody or proper structure. It sounds like he’s going off the rails in many parts, only to get back on course in time for the next verse which Hank Rollins obediently barks out.

“I must admit” Henry states at the beginning of “Slip It In” “This feels mighty good” before launching into the definitive version of what I formerly considered to be a weak entry in the Flag’s catalog.

Who’s Got The 10 ½ also contains the definitive version of “Drinking & Driving,” “Loose Nut,” and a simply killer version of “Louie Louie.”

Kira and new Flag drummer Anthony Martinez are Black Flag’s hidden weapons here, with Martinez providing incessant propulsion, demonstrating that what may have been missing from the lamer studio renditions of the set’s newer material is someone who had a pair of double bass drums.

Who’s Got The 10 ½ not only serves as the best way to fully appreciate the band’s later material, but it’s a good way to witness the stage prowess of a band who’s moments in person were typically remembered for the way they were cut short by police thugs and contentious audience members.

But for me, the album serves as an example of what I missed for not journeying up to that college town to see the band on their final tour before imploding under their own inner tensions.


Tanja said...

I don't remember this being a cassette only release, I got the vinyl in 1986 when it came out. Live '84 was cassette only, finally out on CD years later.
Compared to Live '84, this is a much better live document of the band at that time. The double bass drumming of Anthony Martinez makes a big difference.
I think by '84-'85 you were more likely to get punched by Hank than deal with a police riot at their shows. He was known for being a bit of an asshole in those years.

Todd Totale said...

You're probably right, but I do remember this wasn't available on cd for the longest time. So I was stuck with one of SST's shity cassettes for the longest time.