Over the course of the next few weeks, Backbeat will be counting down the twenty most fabled moments in Denver music history. Today, a look back at Black Flag's 1984 show at the Rainbow Music Hall that ended with members of the opening act being arrested.
You may have heard about this one; it was notorious enough to merit a mention in Get In the Van,the 1994 memoir penned by Henry Rollins about life on the road with Black Flag: On April 25, 1984 at the Rainbow Music Hall, Nig-Heist, Black Flag's opening act, led by the band's iconic roadie Steve "Mugger" Corbin, played a, uh, stripped-down set that landed Corbin and Tom Trocolli in a Denver jail cell after the set. Almost three decades later, feelings over the whole incident are still a little raw for Corbin.
Looking at the band's short-lived history, the Nig-Heist was wasn't really a band at all -- it was more like something of a side project led by the Black Flag roadie and some of his friends. The Nig-Heist's collaborators were a who's-who of punk rock elder statesmen, including Greg Ginn, who bailed the band out of jail, D. Boon, the Minutemen's fabled frontman, Danzig/Social Distortion drummer Chuck Biscuits and Minor Threat/Fugazi singer/guitarist Ian MacKaye, who all sat in at one point or another.
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The show at Denver's now-defunct Rainbow looked to be one of the highlights of Black Flags' tour, which had by that point reportedly become a bit of a clusterfuck. In his Get in the Van, Rollins writes that the band's touring rig (a Ryder moving truck) had its tires slashed in Milwaukee a couple days before coming here. But things were looking up for Denver. "Apparently the show has sold over 800 advance tickets," Rollins wrote. "I'm looking at the press. It's fairly raving."
The Nig-Heist changed that narrative. Duane Davis, who owns Wax Trax Records and was at the show, recalls, "There was a lot of badmouthing of 'true' punks and 'fake' punks and everything in between. It was funny...it was meant to offend, and they got exactly the reaction they wanted. I imagine they'd have been disappointed if nothing happened."
The day after the Denver gig, while the tour van was broken down near a Burger King somewhere in Wyoming, Rollins wrote this about the episode:
From Get in the Van, excerpted from the entry "4-26-84 Somewhere"
"Last night in Denver was pretty wild. Sure was a lot of people. Mugger and Tom were arrested for being naked on stage when they were playing their set as the Nig Heist. The promoter came on stage after they were on and assured the crowd that they would never have to see such a disgusting thing ever again. We got them out of jail at 3:30 this morning. Barry Fey is the promoter, a real scumbag. He's horrible and will probably be around for many years to come. The shitty ones always are. These classic rip-off artists never really get what they need, like a baseball bat to the head."
Mugger still remembers that night vividly: "Those fuckin' Nazis threw me in jail!" recalls the singer, now an adjunct computer-science instructor at a Southern California community college. "I went on stage, got crazy, whipped out my wiener, and they thought I was some kind of anarchist or something. That hippie fascist Barry Fey called the cops."
For his part, Fey, who says he wasn't even aware the guys were arrested that night, denies calling the cops on anyone. "I had to be talked into even going to that show," he remembers. "I had never even heard of Black Flag. Their roadies opened for them, and this one asshole took off all his clothes. I went up on stage, grabbed the mike and said, 'You'll never see a piece of shit like that again!'"
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