For such a legendary figure in American punk rock, Greg Ginn looked amazingly modest onstage at the Surly Wench Pub. The 56-year-old guitarist, bandleader and DIY entrepreneur wore closely cropped gray hair, a black T-shirt, jeans and sneakers.
Standing almost stock-still and displaying no expression other than hypnotized head-bobbing, Ginn almost resembled a monk from some arcane and unnamed religion. He played mantra-like guitar riffs built from the skeletons of funk, jazz and electronic music. Only rarely would he string together more than a few notes to resemble a melodic phrase, and he elaborated on these with occasional solos of barely 30 seconds in length. Then it was back to the minimal riffing.
Ginn was accompanied by a second musician who seemed to use a drum machine, a sampler and a MacBook Pro to produce assaultive 808-style beats, weave circular organ lines and recycle some of Ginn's sampled guitar parts. Ginn may have mentioned the name of his cohort at the beginning or end of the 80-minute set—the only times he addressed or acknowledged the audience—but either he spoke too softly, or the microphone wasn't turned up enough.
The founder of the pioneering punk group Black Flag and the man behind SST Records, Ginn has never rested on his laurels. In other ongoing bands, he plays harmolodic jazz, metal and psychedelic jam-band music. The music last Thursday night resembled a no-wave experiment from 1980s New York City. Downtown artsy with brutal restraint, it was engagingly groove-oriented here, tediously repetitive there—but it challenged audience expectations, which is always a good thing. Whether you liked the gig or not, Ginn offered no compromises.
He played between sets by two local acts. The trio BooBooKiss kicked off the show with 25 minutes of furious post-punk that verged on the avant-garde, replete with angular melodies, pummeling rhythms and adornments of spiky guitar and bass. The eight men in Princess Eater dressed in wigs and women's wear (most quickly torn to shreds) to close the evening with about a half-hour of extreme hardcore and thrash metal. Chaotic and destructive, the band created the perfect soundtrack for the end of civilization—or at least for getting a beer tossed in one's face.