Bassist Jared Swilley
Oftentimes, bands are better off being ignored by a publication like Vice magazine, because if they're writing about you, chances are it's not good. There exists a narrow path toward Vice glory, reserved for only the most obscure, crustiest of punks. Atlanta's Black Lips, a self-proclaimed "flower-punk" band, gleefully reside on the Vice Records roster, alongside artists like OFF! and King Khan & the Shrines, which only means that when they're in town, you're in for a wild show.
There's a sort of sweaty high when you walk into the Casbah for a sold-out show, and with a lineup like Personal and the Pizzas, Low Volts, Cerebral Ballzy and Black Lips, the energy in the room readies itself for a front-to-back mosh pit with girlfriends holding their boyfriends jackets and beers while they, well, jump around violently in a crowd of other guys.
As if the crowd wasn't primed enough, a Rocky-esque themed soundtrack played as Black Lips walked onstage to say, "This is the first day of the rest of our lives," backed by a smoke machine, The guitarist Cole Alexander spit on his guitar, only to let it slide grotesquely back into his mouth as he held it above him. Their set began with their trademark confrontational garage rock, mixed with subtle melodic rockabilly, but it wasn't loud enough to stray too far from their punk roots. However, their latest record, the Mark Ronson-produced Arabia Mountain, revealed more of their pop-y side. It's an abrasive kind of sound that's completely accessible.
A few songs in, something went terribly wrong. Bassist Jared Swilley began to fidget with his bass, realizing it was broken. After switching up his bass, he was painfully off-tune. The audience was rowdy enough to forgive him, had he not prematurely claimed defeat by refusing to acknowledge Alexander, who tried desperately to salvage the set. Then there was an awkward back and forth for a solid 15 minutes of half-songs, frustration and onstage bickering. The audience remained mostly aloof to the tension, but for those who stood off to the side, studying the stage, something was wrong. Drummer Joe Bradley maintained a beat throughout, light heartedly offering jokes to ease the tension.
Further technical difficulties continued as the mikes stopped working, likely due to being doused in beer, spritzed throughout previous sets. After remarks by Alexander like, "I don't know how to salvage this one … I thought we were professionals," and, "We suck tonight, why are you still dancing?" and, finally, "You can get a refund," the crowd became antsy.
The band finally put their "big boy pants" on as they referred to it, performing about eight full songs, including "Bad Kids," prompting the crowd to go wild and finally giving them exactly what they wanted. Black Lips apologized sincerely after their final song, asking the crowd if they could play them a few more to make up for their earlier mess.
It was an unfortunate first impression of the band, as I've been a fan for some time. It was, however, their first show of the tour, so they might have been a little rusty after a month off. Every band has it's off nights, so I offer this as an open invitation for a Black Lips encore. I guarantee they'll perform to yet another loyal sold-out room.
Nada Alic runs the San Diego-based music blog Friends With Both Arms and works in artist relations for the nonprofit organization Invisible Children. Follow her updates on Twitter or contact her directly.