Black Lips and Flowers Forever @ El Rey Theatre, 5/1/09
Friday night at the El Rey Theatre, the guitarist for Tilly and the Wall, Derek Pressnall, opened for the Black Lips with his new band, Flowers Forever. The only adornment on-stage was a tangled mass of lights that glowed like a giant light-up hairball that served as a visual embodiment of the Flowers Forever sound: bright, messy, pretty ugly, but intriguing nonetheless. Each song jumped around from melody to melody with no smooth transitions. Drums ricocheted from delicate to pounding, guitars from fuzzy to jangling, and the bass and keyboards seemed to fill in wherever necessary. The unpredictable tone of the lyrics went from sweetly lighthearted ("Beach Bum") to mopey ("Jealous Motherfucker") and finally to politically pissed off in "Golden Shackles." The overall sonic effect of this lack of cohesion was extremely off putting, because the moment you decided you finally liked what the band was playing, they immediately started playing something else. Forever Flowers have potential, though, and could improve enormously if they dedicated themselves to one idea per song, not five. With a little focus and some strict editing, they could make some seriously interesting pop.
After the opening set, the restlessness of the crowd was palpable. A mosh pit began to form in the middle of the crowd, and some kids in the front row decked out with feathers began hopping on and off the stage—much to the chagrin of security. They had every reason to be excited. The infamous reputation of the Black Lips' live show stretches far and wide. They cover everything that would make your mother die of shame. Public urination, vomiting, crowd surfing, stage diving, eating firecrackers, inciting riots, fleeing the country, and nudity are all not only possible events at a Lips show--they're expected.
Finally, after all the frisky anticipation, the Black Lips took the stage, and the crowd erupted so violently that my photographer and I were knocked off our feet. The Lips didn't even get through the first verse of their first song before some kid jumped on stage and began dancing. It soon became a competition to see how long the crowd surfer could stay on stage before diving back into the crowd beyond the reaches of security and the band often played defense during the show by getting between the kids and the security guards. It wasn't really a fair fight. The old and overweight guards were no match for their skinny adversaries.
The heat and the funk of the onlookers seemed only to energize the men from Georgia, and as the crowds amped up, the band began to live up to its wild reputation. Flashing his gold teeth at the ladies, lead guitarist Ian St. Pe made out heavily with singer, Cole Alexander, who had removed his giant black hat for the occasion. Not to be outdone, bassist Jared Swilley, knelt on the hands of the kids in the front row, using them to suspend himself above his adoring masses. The night ended abruptly when a wave of kids arrived on stage, the security guards joined the fracas, and Alexander smashed his guitar in excitement. As soon as the guitar smashed, the curtains came down, and before you could say, "Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma'am!" it was over. Drenched in sweat, mid-mosh, the bewildered the audience were left staring at the curtain and after a few chants of "One more song!" went home.
The Black Lips are refreshing not just because of their wild live show, (although that in itself is reason to go watch them play), but also for their retro garage band sound. These guys eschew the lightning fast shredding and screaming of modern, mainstream punk bands for a blend of garage rock and punk the likes of which the Buzzcocks, the Ramones, and the Sonics would have been proud. The Black Lips prove that you can be a rebellious, badass garage band without sacrificing melody or quality of sound. Their latest release, 200 Million Thousand, is a testament to that notion. With catchy, rough songs like "Starting Over," "Again and Again," and "Short Fuse," the Lips continue to prove that their intelligent anarchy is more than just a fad.