The Black Lips have served as something of an enigma in this modern age. They’re destructive, rude and charming. They don’t fit neatly into a musical category and attract an eclectic blend of people. Mostly they’re called punk, but these days top punk bands like Against Me! and Titus Andronicus seem to be calling for self- reflection while the Black Lips are calling for self-destruction. They’re not role models, but I’ll be damned if I don’t want to hang out with them.
Their set at Emo’s Thursday night brought out a healthy group of curious and enthusiastic fans. People weren’t sure what they were going to get, and if they were sure they were probably wrong. But no matter what scene or place they came from, everyone was a fan of the Black Lips. This isn’t the type of show you go to when you’ve only heard some of their stuff and think they’re okay.
The first band of the night was John Wesley Coleman, a cool indie Rock band with plenty of ’50s style throwback chords and movable lyrics. I’ve really been impressed with the opening acts Emo’s has been lining up lately, and these guys were no exception. They really hit the right blend of modern and throwback to produce a steady, rocking sound. In fact, if I had one complaint it’s that it’d be a bit too steady and no one song really hooked me. It’s one thing to be solid, it’s another to stand out, even if it’s only for one song.
The next band was Vivian Girls, who’ve been on tour with the Black Lips. It’s interestesting that Emo’s chose John Wesley Coleman to open before Vivian Girls because while Coleman leaned a bit on the ’50s, Vivian Girls are almost a complete throwback to early ’60s psychedelia meets garage rock. Think more along the line of The Zombies instead of Cream. Their set was equal parts hypnotizing and engaging. Even though they were one of the opening bands of the night, they stood out on their own and demanded attention. Sometimes when there’s an all-girls rock outfit I groan a little bit because it’s more about girl power than actually making good music – definitely not in this case. Instead, all the members having a second x chromosome lent itself to a sweeping and encompassing musical set that only the right blend of feminism and musical talent could produce.
By the time the Black Lips came on stage the audience was geared up for antics. Legend has it that many clubs won’t allow these guys back because of their crazy performances – from nudity to fireworks to bodily fluids (I’ll let you imagine which ones). By the time the first song started playing there was dancing, an inflatable rubber parrot flying through the air, and more Lone Star being flung around than actually drank.
Most of the insanity came from the audience, but the “Dennis the Menace” style grins on the band members’ faces was encouraging. When one audience member pulled his pants down and dove ass-first into the audience. The Emo’s crew was not happy – but the Black Lips themselves didn’t seem to mind.
The Black Lips call their music “Flower Punk,” a name I’m guessing they pulled out of thin air to fuck with music critics (we appreciate it guys). But it does seem distinct enough to warrant it’s own genre. Like the night’s previous bands, the Black Lips’ music influences seem to reference previous decades – once again ’60s psychedelia comes to mind. But the message certainly isn’t peace and love, if anything a Black Lips show is a tribute to wanton destruction. It’s not malicious, but it has a dangerous edge that’s fun and refreshing in this day and age of rounded corners and SFW tags. That’s where the punk part of “Flower Punk” comes from. Musically, they might have more in common with the Young Bloods – harmonized lyrics and short, repetative guitar chords – but in spirit they’re right next to Henry Rollins when he was punching people at Black Flag shows.
The show ended with fireworks, dancing, and beer being thrown through the air (that was a common theme through the night). It was a great show that felt more like an experience to survive than something to sit and enjoy, but joyful it was. Because despite all the vulgarity, embrace of drugs and the harsh edge, a Black Lips show is a joyful thing. The audience members were embracing the fact that they were alive through unconventional means. Not everyone is going to get it, but dammit, they gotta respect it.
(Black Lips performed at Emo’s in Austin, Texas on April 28, 2011)