January 19th, 2007
I am relatively certain that the black lips will one day be famous, snorting conspicuous quantities of cocaine off some ecstatic groupie’s ass while everyone from Ira Glass to Lou Barlow congratulate them on their stunning performance at the most recent Grammy awards show. I say this not necessarily because it will happen, or even that the Black Lips think it will happen, but when you have a man who can repeatedly spit four feet in the air and without fail, catch it back in his mouth – well, there’s something about that action that makes me feel like my entire body is suspended in a pool of grandma’s warm oatmeal. I just feel safe despite my fear, and raisins, and my fear of raisins. But grandma was awesome.
Before the show began the Crocodile floor was conspicuously empty, save for one drinking man (he may well have been a drunk man and within fifteen minutes it would be indisputable, but at that time it would have been rude to presume) who started a conversation with me along the lines of:
“It’s not very crowded in here, is it? I thought it would be way more crowded!”
My response, something about “give it 20 minutes, you’ll have to wash off the stink” – was undeniably accurate. Within 30 minutes the Tall Birds took to the stage, the floor suddenly filled with the teeming masses, hipsters, drinkers, and impromptu modern dancers (picture a couple pretending to be butterflies trapped in a jar directly behind you to get a rough feeling).
Now, I had never heard the Tall Birds before but had appreciated the Catheters, the band from which the Tall Birds were unceremoniously birthed. This band, I think it’s fair to say, did rock. But not in the wobbly headed British Strokes on a stick routine or whatever other estimation of pleasant music is floating around now. There were wide eyed shouts that woke up the back row drunks, steady beats to keep the front rows hip swaying and at times an honest to god melody that, were one so inclined, could be whistled while waiting for the bus. And though I’m not a fan of the superfluous noodling, and guitars were played in the solo fashion during this performance, I clapped with the rest of the crowd when they took their shit down, and I waited in case they forgot one last song.
The next act were the Invisible Eyes. I tried to like them because they have cool art on their website but I couldn’t help but visualize them as a Moody Blues cover band. This might not be fair to them if they don’t like the Moody Blues, and in fact they sound and look nothing alike, but the thought kept coming up for some inexplicable reason. They did, and of this I’m certain, have a strobe light blinking at a seizure inducing volume, but despite this there was a distinct lack of reckless abandon on the stage, only a sound I’ve heard described as vaguely approximating the early Doors which despite the organ player would kind of be a stretch.
And then there was the Black Lips. I had heard different things about their shows – first, rumors that if you were in the first ten rows then prepare to be covered by vomit, spit, and piss, sometimes all coming from the same orifice. And I had heard the unrelenting hype from their new big label boss, Vice, for their latest album Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, trumpeted as conclusive proof that although the Black Lips may not be the spawn of the dark lord, they are all that is rock and they will beat you and thrash you and shoot a load in the back of your throat as you desperately try to sing along. And, oh yes, they are the spawn of the dark lord.
This, it turns out, is not true. There was screaming, there was rolling on the ground, there was the afore-mentioned spitting and catching but, to the disappointment of some, none of the vomiting on the drumset and then pounding the snare to watch it go flying in a graceful bile colored arc across the stage, no playing guitar with penises, no spitting pee at the crowd. This just goes along with any other life cycle: in infancy, you end up rolling around in your own shit just to get a little bit of attention. As you grow older you learn ever larger and more extravagant ways to make people listen. But eventually you think to yourself, hey, I’m a decent musician and I don’t need to pee in my own mouth to make people like me. This, I think, is true. Without the crutch of exposed genitalia they managed to play a solid set, not quite southern rock but with a blues tinged wall of fuzzy vocals and pounding drums. I think some people were hoping for more blood, more piss. But they weren’t listening to the music anyway so they wouldn’t have cared what the sound was like. They missed out.