Ozzy Osbourne used to kill puppies before his concerts. Alice Cooper passed around a goblet for audience members to spit into, and then drank from the overflowing cup. Marilyn Manson routinely shot dwarves in the head while reading verses from noted Satanist Anton LaVey’s books. These are some of the legends that surround these notorious performers. The only problem is that they aren’t true.
When speaking of The Black Lips’ live performances, some similarly hyperbolic stories of violent, intoxicated and lewd acts emerge about the Atlanta band. But some truths also come to the surface.
“Most of the things that are referenced in the press about our shows happened a few years ago,” insists Black Lips drummer Joe Bradley. “The urination, the vomiting, the nudity—that was all a few years ago. That didn’t happen that often to begin with, and it doesn’t happen that often now.”
While the stories of the band’s chaotic performances of days gone by still titillate fans and music writers looking for an angle (present company included), they only hint at the fury of the band’s present-day live shows, which are less about spectacle and more about the bands tight mix of ‘60s garage rock and the driving sound of classic early Motown albums.
“What we do try to do is to play with as much energy as we can, and hopefully that gets the crowd riled up and they do crazy stuff,” Bradley says.
Instead of the sideshow days of yore, these days tthe Black Lips are trying to provide the soundtrack to a rock ‘n’ roll-soaked evening in which the audience shares an equal billing with the music. Seriously.
“We fully encourage people to do whatever they want at our shows,” says Bradley. “We want people to come to our shows and find an atmosphere where they don’t have to worry about looking cool or wanting to dance but worrying about what people are going to think. We just want them to have fun.”
The Black Lips, formed in 2000 while the band members were still teen-agers, and have created a sound that’s the perfect soundtrack for an out-of-control Friday night. There’s a cool, almost inviting swagger to their recordings, although there’s always a hint of an underlying sonic aggression. Live, the band tends to put their aggressive side front and center.
“When you go to a show, you don’t want to see a band that sounds exactly like they do on the CD,” declares Bradley. “You don’t want to see a band just stand there. You want to be entertained.”
Entertaining is probably the easiest way to describe the Black Lips’ latest album, Good Bad Not Evil (Vice Records, 2007). The group showcases its sweet mixture of garage, ‘60s psychedelia, country music and even a little Brazilian pop thrown in for color.
“There was no real thought process involved when we recorded,” admits Bradley. “Every time we go to record we record 20 songs. But for this album, we only brought in 13 songs. There was no concept or anything; we just wanted to get out ideas down on tape.”
Just back from Europe (for the seventh time this year), The Black Lips are returning to Asheville, the site of a band milestone several years ago. “Asheville was the first place we played out of town,” Bradley recalls.
In fact, at least some of the seeds of the group’s bacchanalian legend were sown in their early Asheville performances. Now that the group has found some commercial success and has less to prove, is Bradley worried that their reputation for wild, unpredictable shows will start to suffer? Can their musical abilities outshine their sideshow history?
Bradley claims that it’s not a problem. Instead, he says it’s the audience that ups the ante these days.
“People want to be part of it,” he says. “We have a kid here in Atlanta that gets up on the stage and lights his pubic hair on fire. People do weird stuff all the time when we play, and I don’t quite understand what gets into them so that they do it. But still, more power to them. It happens, it’s part of the game, right?”
[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
who: The Black Lips and Reigning Sound
what: Garage-powered rock
where: Orange Peel
when: Saturday, Dec. 8 (9 p.m. $12. www.theorangepeel.net or 225-5851)