Black Lips,

El Rey, February 14

By Jonah Flicker

Reports of Black Lips’ onstage antics have apparently been greatly exaggerated. The Atlanta quartet, which released Good Bad Not Evil on Vice Records this past fall, is renowned for committing alleged acts of debauchery at live shows including, but not limited to, vomiting, making out, getting naked and small explosions (not necessarily in that order). Tonight, being Valentine’s Day and all, I expected, at the very least, the appearance of a penis or two or some kind of awkward physical or emotional boundary crossing. But the illicit behavior was limited to one member spitting in the air and catching it in his own mouth and a cryptic comment about a dick in John Wayne’s ass.

I can’t complain too much, though. After sitting through an excruciating set from Pierced Arrows, a flaccid metal band barely that barely managed to play in time with its drummer, the Lips took the stage – promptly at their designated set time, thank you – and tore shit up. There are so many things for a curmudgeon like myself to be annoyed about this band: guitar player Ian Saint Pe wears gold fronts, they’re part of the Vice squad, and they are infuriatingly youthful and energetic. But behind the sloppy psyche and dirty garage rock that drapes all over each song in their catalog lies the soul of a tightly wound ‘60s pop band. There’s something incredibly charming about their ability to focus on unfettered performance over poise but still channel early Beatles or even Shangri-Las.

Black Lips hit every cue and breakdown like the well-rehearsed and road-tested machine they are, only pulling back from the brink of implosion when their constantly bobbing and bouncing stage presence threatened to push them over the edge. Songs like “Oh, Katrina,” “Dirty Hands,” and “Sea of Blasphemy” were blasted out with furious punk-rock intensity, while the spooky “Hippie, Hippie, Hoorah” found the band milking the breakdowns for maximum, reverb-soaked effect.

Sure, there’s something arrogant in the ease with which they turn utter rock and roll chaos into crafty retro-pop-punk, but it’s a sin to covet talent, right? The band’s reputation for putting on a volatile live show probably holds true in many cases, but I’ll take controlled musical commotion like this over onstage urination any day.

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