Concert Review: The Black Lips – Buster’s – 8/2/11

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by Raj Ranade

Bring up Atlanta rockers Black Lips and you inevitably have to bring up the infamous insanities of their past live shows (for example: nudity, live chickens, fireworks, intra-band make-outs, setting fire to their instruments, etc). It’s a sturdy legend that accompanies the band, the kind that can set up a self-fulfilling prophecy with spectators – the band themselves played a relatively restrained set at Buster’s on Tuesday night, but the amped-up audience seemed intent on applying an even coat of two-dollar beer to every surface in the venue.

The inevitable mosh pits and stage rushing by some of the audience’s tipsier members made for plenty of spectacle, but what’s most interesting about the Black Lips in their current state isn’t their to potential to start (or be) a freakshow but the fact that the band seems to be (gasp!) maturing. Not totally, of course – this is still the kind of band that likes to punt roll after roll of toilet paper into the crowd, and singer/guitarist Cole Alexander seemed pretty proud of his ability to hock a loogie directly upwards and catch it in his mouth mid-song. But the weirdo punks who used to incite stage chaos partly to distract from iffy musicianship are now polished stage professionals blending together raucous punk energy and psychedelic rock revivalism.

A lot of that may have to do with Mark Ronson, the producer famous for adding a retro sheen to artists like Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Ronson produced the Lips’ latest album Arabia Mountain, which combines melodies fit for 60s garage rockers like The Yardbirds or The Sonics with an artfully sloppy, high-energy performance style and a dash of trademark weirdness (lyrical topics on the latest release include dumpster diving, raw meat, and Spider-Man’s heretofore unknown traumatic history of childhood abuse).

The more bizarro elements make for a nice counterpoint to the band’s radio-ready pop instincts, and the whole package is pretty irresistible in a live setting. After opening act Night Beats, who played a more traditional brand of distortion rock which climaxed in an explosive cover of The Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction”, the Lips burned through tracks from Arabia and past hits like “O Katrina” and “Bad Kids”, pogo-ing through the thick mist of a fog machine and interspersing eerie radio transmissions and electronic noise between songs to add a touch of freakiness to the otherwise joyful vibe . It was a ferocious set that left a satisfied audience in its wake, but even after the last note, the Lips didn’t seem like they were done for the night – bassist Jared Swilley extended an open invitation to any concert-goers looking to set up a Tuesday night after-party in the few remaining hours before the band had to travel. My guess is that they probably found a few takers.

Black Lips – “Bad Kids (Live)” (video by Tony Spires):

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