Monday, March 16, 2009

Revived by revivalists: Black Lips in Boston

Sitting with friends in Harvard/Central Square on a nice night, sipping on a strong rum and coke out of a pop cup is a great way to spend a Saturday, until it starts raining.  It came as a few drops at first, but then started coming down pretty steadily.  So what turned out to be a nice little chat to kill some time before the show was going to begin turned into a huddle session in the entrance of a pizza joint.  From my past experience with shows in Boston, the crowds haven't been the best ones I've been a part of, so I was hoping it wouldn't turn out to be that way again.  There was only one way to find out.  We finished up our drinks, and with a nice buzz and an excited attitude, walked into the Middle East for the show.

After having our real ids scrutinized by the door girls (like I would lie about being 20) we stepped into the rather empty downstairs room.  Even though the room looked pretty empty, it was still early, and I heard some people talking about how the show had sold out, so there was certain to be a large crowd.  My friends and I took the opportunity to make our ways to the front of the stage and stake out our spots for when the Black Lips came on.  The front row was already taken up by what seemed to be diehard fans, each one with their cameras in hand, ready for a surprise appearance of a band member before their set.  At one point, the Black Lips bass player, Jared Swilley, walked across the room, trying to make his way towards backstage, and the two diehard fans in front of me proved how much they like the band as they both literally ran over to him to get a picture.  It opened up two spots in the front row, but we were pretty content with there we were standing.  They came back, took their spots, and I said to one of them, "that's awesome, getting a picture with Jared.  I wish I had a camera with me."  He kind of nonchalantly replied, "yeah, I always bring my camera with me."  We started talking about their new album, which had just come out eleven days earlier on February 24, 2009, and we both agreed that after listening to it a couple of times, we really liked it.  Our conversation was cut short though, as the first opening band took the stage.

They introduced themselves as Mean Creek from the Boston area, and broke into a folk-inspired rock sound that started to warm the crowd up, and even got a few people dancing.  They played about a thirty-minute set and then left the stage after getting their equipment together.  They show was off to a good start and my friends and I agreed that they were one of the better opening bands that we had seen.  I glanced behind me now, to the faces of a much bigger crowd than what was behind me before Mean Creek started playing.  The crowd appeared to mostly be in their mid-twenties, and it was nice mix of men and women.  A lot of people looked like they were college students out for a night of run, but there was also a good amount of people who looked like they were out of college.  Everyone seemed to be dressed pretty normally.  That is, there weren't any noticeable punks, goths, or other easily identifiable group, but there were quite a few hipsters interspersed throughout the room (but nowadays, where isn't there).  More and more people were coming in, the bars and floor were getting more tightly packed, and it was all just in time for the next opening band, Gentleman Jesse and His Men.

I had checked out Gentleman Jesse a little bit before the show to see if I liked what I heard, which I did, and they were even better live.  They're from Atlanta, the same place as the Black Lips, and they came with an energy that really started people moving.  Their bluesy punk style seemed to have roots in early punksters like Gene Vincent or Eddie Cochran, and once again, it was one of the better opening bands that my friends and I had encountered.  After about what I would say was close to an hour-long set, they announced that the next song was going to be their last one, and they broke into a fast paced tune that turned the front row area into a pit like area, but not a full blown one.  The crowd was really into it, and they actually got an encore song.  Once they finished up their encore, they were off, leaving an empty stage and a high level of anticipation throughout the crowd.

The Black Lips took the stage and immediately began hitting the crowd hard with their self-proclaimed flower punk (though I would personally describe them as garage-rock punksters with a badass attitude).  Not once did the crowd stop moving and there was quite a bit of crowd-band interaction.  Jared, the bass player, even gave one of the guys in the crowd his beer, and he gave another a bottle of water.  The crowd was all there for the same reason, and there weren't any downers among it, which I was very relieved by.  They didn't really take a break at any point, except for when Cole, one of the guitar players, had to tune his guitar, so it was a non-stop barrage of amazing songs and high energy that left me extremely tired.  On their last song, Jared and the other guitar player, Ian, jumped out into the crowd and surfed along the outreached hands.  The show was over, and I reluctantly, but at the same time, relieved, made my way towards the back of the venue, where the exit and the merch tables were.  Already standing back by the Black Lips table was Cole, the guitar player.  He was happily talking to anyone who approached him, but at the moment, he seemed pretty engaged with one guy, talking about who knows what.  Instead of interrupting, I just purchased a vinyl pressing of one of their albums, and my friends and I made our ways into the night.

Walking back to our car, we all jubilantly talked about how amazing the show was, and how it was one of the best ones we had been to in a really long time.  It was just a show full of cathartic energy that proved to be a nice escape from the responsibilities of day-to-day life, which might explain why so many college kids were present.  In the car, on the trip back to Providence, I started thinking about how great it would be to be in a band like the Black Lips.  They've toured in almost every single continent, they travel around with their friends non-stop, they don't have to have what society deems a real job, and they get paid for something that I'm sure they all love to do.  They also bring real music to people.  They are one of the leading bands in the sixties revival sound, and they are not losing touch of the roots of a lot of popular music.  They are a band that likes to party, who isn't necessarily preaching a serious, outright political message, and I think this makes them a very accessible, fun and enjoyable band.  Couple these things with the fact that they are good guys who truly appreciate the crowds of people that come out to see them, and you've got the makings of a great band.

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