BEING THERE: Black Lips @ First Unitarian

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I have to admit that when I first checked out the Black Lips about a decade ago, it had nothing to do with their music. I’d never heard it. Rather, I was drawn in by their already legendary antics such as whipping their junk out, vomiting, and kissing one another. That last stunt allegedly got them kicked out of India. This stuff may seem pedestrian to you, my faithful old-school punk reader, but for a dyed-in-the-wool folkie like me it sounded super-cool. I mean, in the folk world, the worst we get up to is, say, inciting a sing-along on stage. The Lips incite riots! Not bad for a couple of juvenile delinquents from the suburbs of Atlanta — aka Black Lips singer/guitarist Cole “Old King Cole Younger” Alexander and singer/bassist Jared “Hondo” Swilley

Alas, when they played Saturday night at the wood-paneled, drop ceiling-ed and always stuffy First Unitarian Church, there was no dicks on display and no blown chunks. Not a solitary smooch. But there was – in spite of the C&W leanings of the brand new The Black Lips Sing In a World That’s Falling Apart – plenty of the sort of lurching, unhinged rock’n’roll that has earned the Lips a loyal following. It takes a lot of practice to sound this bad. That’s Good Bad Not Evil. The Lips overcame some sound problems early on (Cole called it a “slow start”) and ultimately delivered a psych-rockin’ good time.

I posited in an earlier piece on Phawker – and I do mean “piece” here, though, arguably of shit – that Bob Pollard was the only true rock’n’roller to emerge from the 90s indie scene. I did, however, give Cole Alexander an honorable mention based, in large part, on his stance (the Lips do not compare to GBV in terms of songwriting prowess). There I compared him to Iggy Pop but I think I got that wrong (I may have been too fixated on the Iguana and Old King Cole’s cocks). But watching Cole on Saturday night made me think the head Lip might just be the only rightful heir to Alex Chilton circa Like Flies on Sherbert. Like Alex on Sherbert, one wonders whether Cole is going to make it through a song. But he always does and the perhaps studied tentativeness makes him – and the Lips – better for it.

Anyway, on to the highlight reel: (1) Jeffrey Clarke: The newest Lip, acquired from Canadian garage rockers Demon’s Claw, brought a sense of melody (often lacking in the Lips) to the proceedings as well as a strong voice which he used to lovely effect on “Georgia” from the current long player. What Jeff lacks in raw power (when I last saw the Lips at the Foundry they had a serious guitar slinger with them), he more than makes up for in other arenas such as songwriting where the Lips sometimes fall short.

(2) Zumi Rosow: Zumi – who has, against all odds, become Gucci’s muse – had previously suffered a marginal role with the Lips: side-stage, honking on a sax, facing away, never looking quite comfortable. This has changed: Zumi [pictured below], tricked-out in bondage gear on Saturday, long black tufts of arm-pit hair proudly at large, now sings on every song, talks to the crowd, and continues to elevate the Lips’ with her skronky sax (and sex too!). Resembling a sort of transgender Gram and Emmylou, she and Clarke came out alone for the band’s first encore, evidencing Zumi’s new-found primacy in the Lips. (3) Moshing: What other band could get its audience to mosh during a fucking gospel number as the Black Lips did during “Bow Down and Die”? Incredible.

Lowlight reel: (1) My secret wish that the lone crowd surfer would crash to the floor. One less millennial. Can you dig it, Anton? (2) Openers Warish – fronted by professional skateboarder Riley Hawk (yes, son of Tony) – were, in a word, lame-ish. I bet that was their Mercedes van parked out front. — JON HOULON

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