Your heart goes out for The Dirty Nil and War on Women. For two young bands, opening for scene legends like FLAG is a no-brainer but also a no-win. Sure, FLAG – one of the two reunited versions of Black Flag – means playing bigger rooms with more eyeballs, plus whatever currency one gains from being able to say they toured with Keith Morris. The downside of that exchange is that the crowd is looking for something very specific. Hardcore music, at the very least.

Despite what the band is capable of in short bursts (as evidenced on its debut album, Higher Power), The Dirty Nil doesn’t do hardcore. The Canadian three-piece played its set to a smaller crowd with debatable engagement. The band seemed undaunted by the challenge of appealing to the older-skewing on-lookers. Guitarist Luke Bentham, clad in a flash blue-and-white star shirt, blew chewing gum bubbles and whipped himself around the stage while ripping through solos on tracks like “Zombie Eyed” and “Friends in the Sky.” He sells the hell out of his rock star posturing, though it did prompt one crowd member to refer to him as “an Axel Rose motherfucker.” It remains unclear if that was meant as a compliment or a dig. The band seemed to lose its timing a bit – most noticeably on set-opener “No Weaknesses” – but it’s more aggressive tracks, “Lowlives,” “Fugue State” and “Helium Dreamer” were well-received. The band’s brand of bright rock might not make immediate sense to someone looking to hear “My War,” but the Dirty Nil held their own with aplomb.

Still, some blame has to go to the room; it’s hard to think of a band more well-positioned to benefit from a room full of hardcore denizens than War on Women, the Baltimore five-piece whose 2015 album, War on Women, was beloved by many. That album is practically sparking with energy, and the band poured every bit of effort on stage into bringing those songs to life. It would be fair to say that the crowd didn’t return that energy in kind, at least not immediately. “Man, you guys need some more beer or something,” lead singer Shawna Potter said in-between songs. “We’re at the punk show.”

Listening to War on Women, one could trick themselves into thinking the band would be deadly serious on stage. As it was, it was almost jarring to see the amount of fun Potter and company were having on stage while playing songs like “Roe v World” and “Say It” (sample lyric from the latter: “Say it/ Say it/ I was raped!”). It gave the band’s set an edge that’s difficult to explain; the band’s message (hell, it’s very name) suggests an urgency to resolve gender crimes right fucking now, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time to enjoy being in a rock band. The band’s set served as a good reminder that, even when addressing century-long ills, there’s joy to be had in music. You can scream about the patriarchy and dance while doing it.

It helps that War on Women are as tight and compelling as any hardcore band of the last decade. The group was constantly locked in. Aided by Potter’s crowd-goading, they eventually coaxed some life from the audience. By the end of the band’s set, some honest-to-goodness pockets of moshing and head-banging broke out. That those thing happened, as Potter pointed out during a song about transphobia, is all the better. Fun wins out, even among people who come out on a Wednesday to see a reunited hardcore band from the ’80s.

Whatever attention and affection the audience was sitting on for War on Women came erupting out for FLAG. It’s hard to blame the room for its reaction; the partially-reunited members of Black Flag are almost impossibly energetic and locked-in for a group of guys who play a genre of music not known for its artists aging well. From the opening moments of “Revenge,” the band sped through a set of songs, heavy on the early ’80s output, performed with unexpected gusto. FLAG represented the best possible outcome for a legacy band on the reunion circuit, true to its past-self and worthy of the memories of its fans. Hopefully, it also created some new War on Women and Dirty Nil fans.

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