Remember hardcore touring bands like The Ramones, Black Flag and The Descendents? You know, the bands that would be on the road for 10 months out of every year? Well, that's The Black Lips. In fact, at last year's South by Southwest Festival in Austin, the band played an incredible 12 shows in just three days.
Not that pushing it to the limit has ever been a problem for the Atlanta group, even though The Lips were still teenagers when they formed in 2000. Tragedy struck the group in 2002 when original guitarist Ben Eberbaugh was killed by a drunken driver but The Black Lips soldiered on and, six years later, are finally enjoying the fruits of their labor.
During the past four years, drummer Joe Bradley says, the band has made at least five tours of the U.K., a two-month tour of Europe and a tour in Israel in addition to the ho-hum grind of regularly scouring the U.S. from coast to coast.
“This year, we already have a full U.S. tour,” Bradley says, “a full European tour—which includes flying back to California to play Coachella and then flying back to Europe to finish the rest of the tour—and then a U.K. tour after that.”
In addition, the band plans to shoot a movie this summer, Let it Be (in which the group portrays an '80s DIY punk band), before joining the late-summer festival circuit in August. There's even talk of the Lips possibly touring in India and China by the end of the year. But practice makes perfect, and the band's frantic tour schedule has transformed The Black Lips into one hell of a live act.
The band's legendary on- and off-stage shenanigans have helped them gain a reputation for being among the most unpredictable live shows around. Like the buzz that surrounded The Brian Jonestown Massacre earlier this decade, a Lips show all but guarantees that you'll walk away with a quality story.
The band found plenty of fodder when it recorded its Vice Records debut last year in Tijuana. With a little help from San Diego icon (and former Rocket From the Crypt frontman) John Reis, the Lips traveled south to TJ to record the live album Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo.
“Vice figured the best way to introduce us to people who had never heard us before would be to put together a live album,” Bradley explains. “And we wanted to make sure the live album was gonna be interesting. You see a lot of ‘Live From Atlanta,' or ‘Live From Chicago,' and we thought that was kinda boring. So we chose a location we thought would be the most interesting for a live performance.”
Predictably, hilarity—if not hysteria—ensued.
“It was free to get into the show, and it was free tequila and free Tecate to anyone who came in, so it got a little ridiculous,” Bradley says. “But we just wanted to do something interesting.”
This sounds promising.
So—how interesting did it get?
“Just like the same old stuff, people getting naked and crazy stuff happening in the bathroom,” Bradley says. “Like a corrupt cop walking around selling cocaine in the bathroom, collecting money in a box. It was pretty ridiculous.”
A corrupt cop walking around selling cocaine in the bathroom, collecting money in a box? Now there's one of those “just the same old stuff” Black Lips stories. But the live album was actually only the first of two albums The Black Lips ended up releasing on Vice in 2007.
The second, Good Bad Not Evil, is the proper studio album. It's a bit more subdued than the band's earlier efforts (a couple of them released on the renowned Bomp! garage label), but it's still far removed from easy listening. Some have described The Black Lips as “flower punk,” but the band's sound, if not its stamina, is difficult to describe—even for their drummer.
“I don't even know how to narrow it down,” Bradley acknowledges. “We listen to everything—Southern rap, hip-hop, jazz, garage, pop music, world music. Basically we take elements of different things we've heard and try to combine them together into something that hopefully sounds good. It's not always the case, but, you know, we try.” The Black Lips play at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, at The Casbah, 2501 Kettner Blvd. 619-232-HELL. www.myspace.com/theblacklips.