April 30th, 2009
Great American Music Hall
Steel wool q-tips.
Most notable for live shows rife with scandal and debauchery, for Atlanta's Black Lips, bodily fluids, homoeroticism, fires, and other assorted antics are commonplace. Having been banned from countless venues domestically and abroad, the band recently upped their repertoire of drama when they fled India due to fear of imprisonment. While I generally tend to be a proponent of maniacal performances, I prefer my shock value accompanied by earnestness and musical cohesion.
Like an awkward, socially neglected pubescent attempting shit-faced party tricks at the popular kids' shindig, the Black Lips stunts have always seemed to be forced and indicative of some sort of insecurity or need for attention. Perhaps the buffoonery, along with their nearly indecipherable record production, stems from a desire to divert attention away from the fact that the bulk of their swampy retro catalogue is unbelievably sloppy and in dire lack of conventional skill. Years ago, when the Black Lips actually were teenagers, the cheap youthful angst and blatant disregard for musicianship was endearing. Now, however, it just seems a little too lazy. Then again, with Vice Records and their definitive guidebook to hip backing the band, horrible is great; if the minions embrace the stink, then cultivate it and sell it. Perhaps the garage-bound rage is sincere. After all, being raised in the South can foster immense repression. Could there be conviction behind the Black Lips' grandstanded tantrum of muck or is it all just a front - four postured lads trying their best to be the worst? Although previous encounters with the band in Chicago had left me a tad biased, last night I went to Great American Music Hall in search of answers.
What kind of lo-fi garage band with a few amps and battered drum set takes nearly an hour to set up? The Black Lips do. When the disappointment finally began there were no antics, just a pilgrim hat, a couple bad haircuts and whole lot of throwback slop. Full front and center, the dull numb hit. Without the aid of on-stage debauchery the band's mass of shortcomings were left exposed. How does a band tour for nearly a decade and not manage to progress? The Black Lips have. Although 60's pop, obscure vintage garage darlings, punk's finest, and doo-wop are all cited as influences, what came to be was a sewer-made mess of D-rate entertainers partially riling a mostly underage crowd with a trite take on an old sound that's been done better countless times before.
I welcome and appreciate a threatening live environment. I've feared for the safety of my bones at certain shows. This wasn't one of them. I appreciate dirty shit, when it's sincere. This wasn't. The pop inclinations didn't hit the veins and the punk spirit and oddities felt contrived. Reverb and phaser pedals were occasionally smashed. Now call it psychedelic. The effects resounded. Still nothing. Topical additives. The young ones frothed. I get it - If you're sixteen and just starting to swim beyond the mainstream the posed recklessness counts for something. But yet, I want more! Give them danger, progression, a couple bloody stories to hang on to, sincerity, and inspiringly scary words! If you're of age there's just really no excuse. Grown, but sadly not evolved, The Black Lips still play like a bunch of adolescents. Whatever minimal charm and redemption could once could be found in their harum-scarum revelry and juvenile trash has faded. In both genre and performance, all that's left is a bland and stagnated rehashing of yesteryear. As for me, I'll call bullshit and go ahead and retire to a Sonics record and my beer, thank you very much. Critic's Notebook
The smell of a sham in the air.
By the way:
I'm all for bands cracking swine flu jokes, but is it too much to ask for just a little bit of wit?
Watch additional YouTube footage here.