Monday, July 23, 2007

The Black Lips, Old Blue Last

[I wrote this in April, I think, for Plan B, one of the few bits of journalism while tucked away writing my book (out October 9th, i believe!) and marking my students' coursework... I heart the Black Lips]

Live, The Black Lips sound exactly like their records. This is a trip, and worth mentioning, because The Black Lips’ din is a blind and fearless leap into that monoaural Crypt Records sound, that Mummies budget-rock ethos their golden gospel. Their latest slab of goonish, lairy r’n’b pop, Let It Bloom (to be found on the near-faultless In The Red Records) sounds like a 60s garage-rock rarity you just found in some suburban American yard sale, alive with crackle, gold-dust furring the needle and coaxing up some gauzy, soft-focus vibe where bum notes and musical primitivism are an aesthetic, an integral part of the group’s charm. And don’t ask me how, but in this sardine-can room, rubbing shoulders until sparks fly with curious hipsters and those garage-rock freaks usually found lurking at the Boston Arms, The Black Lips perfectly translated their lo-fi charisma and dirty-vinyl warmth.

A healthy fetishisation of certain classic rock’n’roll elements aside, the Lips are a most deliciously alive proposition. They bundle onstage with scruffy but clean black hair, four brothers of the same blood, one with a nefarious gold grill glinting in his gob, another with a lime green felt Smurfs hat pulled down over his mop. The vibe is The Monkees meets the Manson Famiglia, a near-psychotic happiness.

Their songs are true vintage stuff, an ersatz clutch of rooster-raw early Stones rumbles, weird garage-vignettes, blasts of woozy druggadelia and charmingly lop-sided pop songs. Their hooks are beautiful, misshapen things, like the maddening loop of drone-psyche madrigal ‘Hippie Hippie Hoorah’, sung as a psychotic round, burrowing into your brain like a television babbling absently while you sleep, or the dumb lope of ‘Boomerang’, a lazy boozalong with a twisted, off-kilter guitar lick like a warped, off-centre vinyl warble, a symphony of wow and flutter.

Like I said, it’s fetishised, but in a deliciously subtle, knowing fashion, a loving pastiche leavened with wit. For recent single ‘Dirty Hands’, a barber-shop valentine set to ‘Be My Baby’ drums on a burnt-out street corner, the boys sing like Peter Fonda badboys in some Roger Corman exploitation flick, locating some tender, innocent romance in its milieu of tattoos, drugs and an exquisitely summery laziness. “I’m wearing leather, cuz I really think it’s cool,” they strut, before wailing, like bullyboy biker choirboys with fool’s gold in their hearts and unmelted butter in their mouths, “Annnnn, do you really wanna hold my dirty hand?” It’s knowing, and coy, and sweet: a cocktail unique like only the Lips could pull off.

The sly self-conscious pleasure of the song-writing collides head on with the adrenaline-rush of their live performance, the three guitar-toting fellas almost tumbling off the tiny stage in wriggling reverie, the barking drummer invisible at the back: a fine chaos emanating from their general direction. Hair is shaken, guitars thrust in the air and swung above their heads in reckless fashion that still doesn’t upset the loose chime of their pop.

The aftermath of the Hives/Stripes insurgency of five or so years ago is a lot of professional dadrock retro chancers plying their high-budget necrophilia under the veil of garage rock, Jet being most heinous offenders. Like the Hunches before them, The Black Lips redeem this trend with a hurtling, helter skelter ricochet into the urchin-like mischief of the garage-rock template, snatching for golden tuneage with endearing, enthusiastic amateurism fraying their ends, an idiosyncratic mess of avant-pop with shades of Monks-esque lunacy haunting their stomp.

Thirty minutes after they shambled onstage, and they’re off again, grabbing the smoke machines and aiming them at the audience for the last thranging chord, our ears still ringing with their hazy, lusty, anarchic songs. Rock’n’roll hasn’t been plied with such dog-eared, homely and wonderful bonhomie since the last time Love As Laughter trod the boards, and The Black Lips are a similarly cherishable, riotous group. Prepare to fall in L.U.V. love.

(c) Stevie Chick, 2007

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