Black Lips bassist/singer Jared Swilley
Black Lips bassist/singer Jared Swilley
Bradnon Ferguson

Last Night: The Black Lips, Detroit Bar, Costa Mesa

The Show: These guys represented the distilled essence of rock & roll: Rebellious, snotty, full of cliches and rife with a raw energy that's immediately captivating. Compared to their live act, it's obvious that a significant portion of the band's punk rock ethos is lost in their studio recordings. Put simply, the Black Lips are proof positive that a band's presence and delivery can more than make up for a lack of talent--and there were moments when traditional chops were undeniably questionable. Early in the set, as the band was about to launch into the song "I'll be With You" off 2009's 200 Million Thousand, it was painfully apparent that bassist and vocalist Jared Swilley's instrument was severely out of tune. He continued the song, oblivious to the issue, until singer/guitarist Alexander stopped him. 

Once the problem was fixed, the band smartly continued without dwelling on the matter, instead exuding delightful cockiness. For the entire set, they played hard and enthralled the crowd. Swilley delivered every song in a high-pitched yelp that pushed the Detroit Bar sound system to its limits but the audience responded with enthusiastic singing and bouncing. The crowd's energy was noticeably stoked when the band broke into a version of the radio single "O Katrina!" The  opening bars of the song were played chopped and screwed before the band punched it into a full gallop. Swilley screeched the lines "Oh Katrina why you gotta be so mean / You saw a highway down in New Orleans."  

Yet despite the sustained verve, there were moments that smacked of rehearsed gimmickry: Alexander played his axe with his teeth, and fellow guitarist Ian Saint Pe, whose lower choppers were encased in a gold grill, did spit beer on the audience (no surprise there). The shakiest moment of the evening occurred when all musical cohesion threatened to disintegrate completely during an atrocious rendering of the song "Buried Alive." The band managed to quickly rebound however with set closer and pop-tastic sing-along "Bad Kids."

The bands Audacity and Nobunny opened. Nobunny lead singer of the latter band sang in a rabbit Halloween mask and red skivvies.

The Crowd: Some were clad in sportcoats, others in leather bomber jackets. Hairstyles were unkempt and greasy. There was an unusually high number of pretty girls, many who planted themselves firmly in front of the stage prior to the band's set. The room was packed and the crowd was rowdy. For some reason, as the audience in front of the stage enthusiastically bobbed and swayed to the music, a beefy bouncer barreled into the throng and started pushing people with vigor. It was unclear what he was trying to achieve.

Overheard: Not much after a Charles Manson doppleganger wearing a T-shirt with the word "Lurker" printed on the front whistled loudly next to my ear several times before the band started.


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