Search and Destroy

The Black Lips blow up all they touch

The Black Lips are like a car bomb. You never really know how they're gonna go off, but when they do, total carnage will follow. While by no means making violent theatrics the sole focus of their performances, frontman Cole Alexander has been known to pull the following punches:

* scrape off guitar solos with his cock

* toss lit firecrackers at fellow band members just for kicks

* pretend he's George Bush Sr. visiting Japan and vomit onstage

* piss and spit into the crowd

Needless to say, the boys have been banned from more than a few clubs. But people are finally paying attention to the music behind these rejects' chaos. While others merely rip off forgotten '60s punk gems from Back From the Grave comps, the Black Lips sound brilliantly unrehearsed, raw, bluesy, and explosive — especially on their latest release, Let It Bloom. They've captured the fire of their live shows while showcasing solid hooks and melodies. “Dirty Hands” is a degenerate's honest attempt at Phil Spector, and “Sea of Blasphemy” holds all the filth and rebellion young troublemakers aspire to instigate. Bloom's release has caused heightened awareness of the band 'round these parts. A two-page photo spread in Spin (highlights: lots of blood and gold-capped teeth) and interest from sleaze merchants Vice Records are just some of the good fortune to befall the four lads from Atlanta.

Having lost a member to a freak car accident in 2002, the group is due a lucky streak. I remember talking with them after a show in Detroit when they took a marker to their temporary license plate. “What's worse … driving with an expired plate or altering it to look legit?” they posed hypothetically. When these are the questions you're asking mid-tour, it might be time to call it a day. But the Black Lips traveled relentlessly, playing shitty house parties and sleeping with the roaches. They caught the attention of In the Red Records (home of the Hunches and the Ponys) and made a name for themselves in Europe, where their outta-tune garage slop has been championed since early on.

These guys are hanging on by a thread, and the slightest movement — whether it be a lack of beer, an unenthusiastic crowd, a broken guitar — can set off total pandemonium. “We don't like using setlists,” says drummer Joe Bradley. “We feed off crowds. If the crowd is tame, we'll just be tame, but if it's too tame, we can go the opposite direction and go totally nuts.”

So yeah, the Black Lips can still seem like a toddler riding a bike without training wheels. When sessions for Bloom began in Costa Mesa, label head Larry Hardy gave the band a chunk of money for their stay. After two days of recording, he received a distressed call from studio engineer Mike McHugh. “Mike called and asked if it was alright for him to lend the band some money [for] food,” Hardy recalls. “He felt bad seeing them eat out of dumpsters. I told him yes, but that I'd given them money at the beginning of the week.” Turns out they spent all that cash on beer.

Antics aside, the Black Lips really shine through their sound. Their errant, no-fi, tape-hiss, bumblebee-in-a-jar fuzztone, and lyrics about feelin' gay and faces covered in snot — it's what's been missing from the American youth zeitgeist for far too long. They're riffraff that any punk can rally around, the underdogs that actually have a solid chance at winning. So don't be distracted by the piss and vomit and cocks onstage, because all that is superfluous. The Black Lips may very well pose a security threat to the staid music fan, but their payoff is well worth the carnage.

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