It used to be that the biggest hazard for Anti-Flag was stage-divers -- and, who knows, it still might be -- but in the past few years, the danger has been less about how the Pittsburgh punk band plays and more about where.
Next month, Anti-Flag makes a return trip to the heart of the Eastern bloc conflict with shows in both Ukraine and Russia.
With: Brendan Kelly, Timeshares, World’s Scariest Police Chases.
Where: The Rex Theater, South Side.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: $15; all ages; www.showclix.com.
"We have friends in bands who canceled their shows," says bassist Chris #2. "They were scared. Never before have I gone on tour and had my mom call me and say, 'I don't think you should go.' But when we went to Russia [last year], people were like, 'There's tanks in the streets, man,' and I'm like, it's bad, but there's thousands of kids over there. Our Moscow show was like 1,500 people and we hit the first chord and everybody went 'Ahhh, OK, everything's normal for right now. Let's go!' "
Working the Eastern European festival circuit, Anti-Flag has encountered excited teenagers, nervous promoters, bomb threats and the occasional political indiscretion of an American band. In September, at a Ukraine festival, someone threw a Russian flag on stage, prompting a member of the Bloodhound Gang to stick it down his pants in a provocative way. The video quickly went viral, the day before Anti-Flag and the Bloodhound Gang were both booked for a Russian festival.
"It went up high in the Russian government, and they said the band's not allowed to play this festival," Chris says. "Halfway through the show, cops and dogs and all these things show up, and it gets really sketchy, and right as we're about to go on, the promoter says, 'Please try not to say anything about Putin or Pussy Riot [the imprisoned Russian girl band]. We are afraid they are going to pull the plug on the festival.' So I think I said the words 'prisoners of conscience' about 50 times, trying not to say Pussy Riot."
The normally uncensored Anti-Flag plays a home gig in Pittsburgh at the Rex Theater on Saturday on a tour timed with its 20-year anniversary and the release of "A Document of Dissent: 1993-2013," a 26-song collection spanning nine albums and six labels. It opens with the band's anti-war cry "Die for the Government" and rages on with such protest songs as "This Machine Kills Fascists," "Angry, Young and Poor," "Turncoat" and "1 Trillion Dollar$."
The band, he says, wasn't really looking to do a greatest hits.
"Fat Mike, who runs Fat Wreck Chords and plays in NOFX, he championed the idea," Chris says. "He said, 'Dude, it's time, with the 20th anniversary.' I've always been like, 'Yeah, best-ofs are for housewives, man. What are you doing to me?' " He pauses. "That's obviously a joke."
They came around to the idea, thinking of the record as a chronicle of the band framed by the political happenings of the last two decades.
"We created a timeline of the beginning of the band and what inspired Justin [Sane] to start the band, which was the first Iraq War, all the way through 2013 when we were writing songs about NSA wiretapping.
The goal of the creative process, he says, "is to create something that lasts longer than you do."
Anti-Flag, which played Coachella for two weekends in April, is busy touring the world this summer, and will come back to its Shaler headquarters in October to record a 10th album for early 2015. Having been on SideOneDummy, the band is label shopping once again and thinking big on this one.
"The last two we saw ourselves harken back to the reasons why we started playing music, and now I think you're going to see us try to find new ways to present new songs to people," Chris says. "That's kind of the cycle. You have moments where you're like, 'I just want to play my instrument and be angry.' You have moments where you want to be big and grow and reach as far as it can reach."
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.