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Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008

Slippery Lips

Black Lips press buttons, but get off scot-free (mostly)

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In many cultures, Black Lips are considered unbecoming because they “tend to cast a sad reflection on one’s shoddy lifestyle,” according to the beauty and lifestyle magazine I Love India. Fittingly, then, few bands on the indie-rock radar are as notorious for troublemaking and excess as the Black Lips, a noisy, bluesy foursome from Atlanta.

First there’s the band’s name, which could be viewed in a not-so-friendly light, especially after a few drinks. There’s also bassist Jared Swilley’s drunken driving charge, which keeps the band from crossing the Canadian border legally.

Then there are the outrageous tours. Black Lips fan sites and the British newspaper The Guardian have chronicled onstage antics such as fireworks, nudity and peeing.

At a July 2007 show at the Siren Music Festival in Brooklyn, N.Y., the band released a live chicken into their maze of guitars, amps and speakers. After a lot of squawking and flapping, an explosion was heard and a shower of feathers covered the audience.

Not to worry, though, says Joe Bradley, the band’s drummer. No fowl were harmed in this production. “It was a clever illusion with a feather cannon and a CO2 tank,” he says of the blast, pointing out that the chicken in question mysteriously reappeared at the sound booth after the show, where “he was a big hit until he crapped all over the table.”

That said, the band’s upcoming Milwaukee performance is likely to shock and impress as well, especially considering the band’s affection for our humble, beer-drenched town. “Milwaukee has always been a good town for us,” Bradley says. “There are a lot of good kids in Milwaukee.”

In fact, the band has gone to great lengths to play Brew City, Bradley notes. “One time, we offered to play a friend’s birthday party there, so we got the bassist’s Jeep, drove all the way from Atlanta to Milwaukee in a day, then drove all the way back to Atlanta because some of us had to work the next day,” he says.

Perhaps the Black Lips’ stamina accounts for their Teflon-like reputation. Last year, The New York Times named the Black Lips the hardest-working band at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. There, in a similar feat of endurance, the band logged a dozen shows in a mere 72 hours.

Despite the Black Lips’ good, old-fashioned work ethic, however, you may not want to bring your mom to the show— especially if she’s the sensitive, earthycrunchy type. Tired of being described by the music press with labels like “night-pan rockabilly garage,” as Bradley puts it, the band invented their own descriptive phrase for their sound: “flower punk.”

What on Earth does this mean? Bradley says flower punk means the Black Lips are “too punk to be hippie but too hippie to be punk.” Make no mistake about it: Black Lips do not want to be associated with political correctness, Birkenstocks or the San Francisco Bay Area, Bradley says.

“Thank god we don’t live in Berkeley, so we don’t have to deal with those nitpickin’ freaks,” he says. This follows on the heels of the band’s 2007 interview with The Guardian, in which bassist Swilley remarked, “I don’t like the rich kids from San Francisco protesting the war and dropping acid.”

Bradley concedes that the free love part of the hippie movement might be OK, however—especially if the other band members are involved. (Lead singer Cole Alexander—aka Old King Cole Younger— has been known to French kiss other band members at live shows, or whenever he’s feeling feisty.)

Lately, though, the Black Lips have preferred to spend their time writing love songs about Hurricane Katrina (“O Katrina!”) and tongue-in-cheek tunes about American Indians (“Navajo”), both of which can be found on their latest album, Good Bad Not Evil. In keeping with the band’s rabble-rouser persona, Vice Records released the album on Sept. 11, 2007.

Black Lips play the Turner Hall Ballroom on Sunday, March 2, at 8 p.m.
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