The Black Lips show at the Echo was there to remind us that, despite the pandemic which doesn’t want to go away, despite the unvaccinated/unmasked people, we can still have a good time: humanity can still gather, pack a club, headbang in synchronicity and forget everything else for 2 hours.
I have seen the Black Lips several times before, at larger venues, even headlining local festivals (like the now completely canceled and infamous Burgerama) and I was almost surprised the band managed to survive the every-white-male-band-is-canceled storm of 2020. The Black Lips have been ‘offensive’ since their debut with antics such as getting wasted and vomiting on stage or showing their dicks on stage – I have never seen them doing extreme things like these, but they had that reputation for a while and their shows have always been a riot. The most ‘offensive’ thing I have seen them doing was trashing the stage and the entire venue with toilet paper, a puerile fun move they repeated last night, but since today offensive is synonymous with sinful and criminal, what else could they do?
After all, they are a band that got chased out of India years ago after engaging in some onstage nudity, and ‘homosexual acts’ – something still illegal at the time in that country. But, today, doing such a thing while screaming the F-word during a show would probably be perceived as either the most homophobic act ever, or the most offensive lack of respect for another culture, due to our current society’s loss of moral sophistication. There is no place for the Black Lips’ outrageous acts anymore. They never became the big rock act they could have been after a Mark Ronson-produced album (‘Arabian Mountain’ in 2011) and, at the same time, they have considerably calmed down. Their show at the Echo was still a lot of fun, but there were no remarkable stage antics. Rather the spectacle was in the rowdy crowd, where everyone was having a good time… but again, I have seen more dangerous moments in my concert life: when I can stay front row during the entire show, it stays on the gentle side of punk.
The terrific Kate Clover and her as-sharply-dressed-as-Interpol band opened the show, and she sure delivered her effervescent bullet-songs with some sexy energy. With her high heels, tight long skirt, and blonde ponytail, she channeled the chaotic execution of ‘70s punk. The riffs and the power chords were big, and she rushed through her set as if there was no tomorrow, mixing songs from her latest EP ‘Channel Zero’ (‘Tearjerker,’ ‘Love You to Death,’ ‘Channel Zero,’ ‘Roulette,’) with older ones (‘Daisy Cutter,’ ‘Heaven Down Here,’ Pleasure Forever,’ Your Phone’s Off the Hook,’ ‘Crimewave,’ ‘Follow your Heart’). From classic to classy punk rage, her set was a punchy to breathless exercise, with a touch of rockabilly here and there, and an authentic black leather/black glasses kind of vibe.
Still fronted by Cole Alexander and Jared Swilley, who formed the band back in their schooldays, the Black Lips was almost as I remembered: her slender body tied in a bright red jumpsuit, Zumi Rosow was still blowing her saxophone in a corner of a stage, but I didn’t recognize two new members: Oakley Munson on drums and Jeff Clarke on guitar. Their last album ‘Sing in A World That’s Falling Apart’ (released in 2020) stayed quite under the radar, while it surprisingly sounds like heartfelt retro country. After opening with ‘Sea of Blasphemy,’ giving the tone for their natural taste for taboo subjects, they pleased the ecstatic crowd with a restless 22-song set, while playing a lot of these new songs: ‘Holding Me Holding You,’ ‘Odelia,’ ‘Georgia,’ ‘Angola Rodeo,’ Locust,’ ‘Hooker Jon,’ ‘Chainsaw,’ ‘Gentleman,’ and it was quite a departure from their usual psychedelic throwback garage rock riffs. During the very catchy toe-tapping ‘Look Here Satan,’ I could have sworn I was attending a June Carter and Johnny Cash revival, thanks to Zumi Rosow’s excellent vocals. There were more of these galloping outlaw country tunes (almost all the new songs) whipped by a fast gallop or a train whistle – not that anyone was complaining, it was good old-fashioned, toe-tapping fun. They still played the hits, ‘Family Tree,’ ‘Modern Art,’ ‘Raw Meat’ off ‘Rainbow Arabia’ with the same swagger attitude, drunken abandon, and anarchy envy they are known for, injecting distortion and mad saxophone here and there.
The only fluid I received was from water bottles (although it may have been mixed with beer?) and the madness of the performance went through a blend of genres executed with rawness and raucousness, including heartfelt drunken harmonies during ‘Crystal Nite,’ and a truly melancholic moment during ‘Get it On Time’ sang again by Zumi. The Black Lips’ songs are super catchy, and each of them got everyone’s attention; the band played them with bottomless energy and sincere passion from start to finish, loyal to their original definition: ‘one part hippy, one part anarchy.’ The show was boot-stomping from ‘Sea of Blasphemy ‘to the very popular ‘Raw Meat,’ turning into a long series of sing-along anthems, without forgetting a 4-song encore with the incredibly hooky ‘Gentleman.’ I don’t want to give the wrong idea, there was some serious pushing against the stage, and crowd surfing – even Cole Alexander jumped over the crowd, proving that, despite the tuneful country songs, the Black Lips haven’t mellowed down that much.
Sea of Blasphemy
Look Here Satan
Holding Me Holding You
Can’t Hold on
Get it on Time
Hippie Hippie, Hoorah
Slime and Oxygen
essential crossover pop just after disco’s height
a nihilist’s anthem
Do You Believe In the Paranormal?
too on the nose
into rock god land
The venue is deeply symbolic
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