Is it possible for a garage punk band to grow up? Black Lips came back to New York this week, and I wanted to find out. This is a group founded on the principles of getting out of control, having the best time with the aid of all available substances, and creating emotional bedlam that incites a crowd to near riot.
I personally witnessed the spontaneity of this a few years ago when Black Lips played one of those legendary free concerts on the waterfront in Williamsburg. It was boiling, stinking hot, and the giant crowd was a steaming, undulating wave stretching from the stage back to the street, seemingly a mile away. Patience was not a hallmark that day, and the people wanted musical red meat. The stage was built high, so it could be seen from the back, and there was a large, fenced security barrier between the mass and the platform, patrolled by the usual beefy giants. They announced Black Lips, and they bounded out, plugged in, hit a few chords to make sure it was right, and fired up “Oh Katrina.” It was intense. All of a sudden, everyone surged forward all at once, knocking over the barricades, running over the guards, and climbing onto the stage. Complete and total, spontaneous, unrehearsed bedlam. Cool! Music can do this to a crowd. You may never see it happen, but if you do, you won’t forget it. Black Lips mobbed by fans at Brooklyn Waterfront.
Fast forward to Webster Hall, four to five years later. Black Lips have calmed down a bit. They still incite a little moshing , but only in the front, and it was just a little ‘token’ moshing, at that. What we have now is a more mature group of seasoned pros who want to be taken seriously. They deserve it. They’re out promoting a great new record, Under The Rainbow, and it’s produced by big time hit maker Mark Ronson, who has produced everyone from Adele to Paul McCartney. They are also coming off of a big ‘hit’, the recent T-Mobile commercial, with their crazy great song, “Looking for a New Direction.” [You may have wondered who did the song in that commercial. Shazam!] What the haters may call selling out, I call surviving. Playing music is better than pumping gas, right? Congratulations!
At their show, they dispensed with the drunken antics, and stuck to tight three and four part unison vocals, and occasional harmony singing on every song. The drummer may be the best vocalist and musician in the group. I love singing drummers, and by playing drums, and doing vocals simultaneously, these drummers tend to play the straightest, and most interesting beats.
Mostly, the Lips get to the point. All of the songs last a taught 3 minutes or so, long enough for us to get solidly into it, short enough to keep our silly, short attention spans from day trips to our smart phones.
Black Lips do extremely hooky, catchy tunes that are easy to sing along with, stick in your head, and keep you up at night. The words are short, to the point, and are surprisingly, profoundly, topical. If you don’t know this group, they sort of sound like a cross between The Clash, The Ramones, and The Rolling Stones. Maybe that will inspire you to check them out. Can a punk garage rock band grow up? Well, yes they can, but to quote one of their best songs, they’re still “Bad Kids”.