Washington-based punk-poppers Flasher put an exclamation point on their breakout year of 2018 with a homecoming gig on November 30th at the Black Cat. Following the release of their debut full-length, Constant Image, a run of best-of lists, and an appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, the band returned from a European tour, jet-lagged and a bit hoarse but exuberant.
Flasher’s singer/songwriters Danny Saperstein and Taylor Mulitz opened their headlining set at the Black Cat, following Public Practice and Gong Gong, with “Pressure,” storming into “Material” and “XYZ.” Flasher excels at exploring the myriad grey areas between the drive of punk rock and the harmonies, melodies, and tunefulness of power pop and New Wave. In their best moments, one can imagine Flasher as a more youthful hybrid of the Buzzcocks and Game Theory.
While the two singers and songwriters get front billing, one of Flasher’s hidden forces is hiding in the shadows, literally and figuratively: Dressed all in black, hidden from the spotlight, drummer Emma Baker provided a powerful beat and rapid tempo changes to Flasher’s interplay of guitar and vocals. Constant Image’s sound is sweetened with a lot of production touches and additional instruments. But without a keyboardist, and in front of the audience, Flasher showcases the more aggressive elements of their music. The live version of "Pressure” was played at a faster pace, and the vocals a bit more shouty, than on Constant Image, and songs from Flasher’s early 7’’ and EP releases shifted from buzzy New Wave to dry, tinny post-punk.
Reprising almost all of their latest LP’s nine tracks, and throwing in a few older songs, Flasher periodically sacrificed some of the subtlety of the record in favor of relentless energy. “Who’s Got Time?” and “Punching Up” were breathless and spiteful. Saperstein and Mulitz are not much for stage banter or show but got more engaged over the course of the set, shouting out their many relatives and friends in the audience and inviting the audience to a Chanukah party at the Saperstein home. One audience member jokingly yelled out, "Where are you from?,” expecting the band to reply "Washington DC" and get a bunch of proud applause, but Mulitz subverted the polite ritual by replying "Crystal City” (which some in the crowd corrected "NATIONAL LANDING!"). It was actually an à propos moment. While nothing on Constant Image is explicitly about Amazon HQ2 arriving in the metro area, much of Flasher’s music offers a dour look at gentrification, go-nowhere jobs, and young-adult cynicism, couched in the language of relationships and lowered expectations and married to energetic and tuneful punk music. It was a potent formula in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and it still is today.
Opening acts Gong Gong Gong, and Public Practice provided some intriguing contrasts. Public Practice offered quick-paced guitar riffs and spiky dance-punk energy, like a throwback to early 1980s Pylon and B-52s, with tons of panache and style from singers Sam York and Drew Citron (both women, although they joked that Public Practice was “a band of dudes”). Gong Gong Gong married traditional Chinese music with Western rockabilly guitar, reminiscent of SsingSsing and Dengue Fever’s updating of rock in Korean and Khmer, pulling from the arrival of Western rock in East Asia via American military and radio in the 1960s and 1970s.