The crowd at Culture Room was young last Friday. They wore tattoos and t-shirts and darted in and out of the venue for quick cigarette breaks in between sets.
Someone not familiar with the Black Lips might have assumed the band was some up-and-coming act after looking out at the budding audience. But the truth is, the Black Lips have been sitting pretty at the helm of the garage revival for the past decade. And unlike other throwback acts, the Black Lips have crafted a sound all their own, one that — among other things — mixes Southern blues with Gram Parsons-style country-rock in a way you've never heard before.
The Atlanta-bred Black Lips had a couple reasons to feel good about its show Friday night in Fort Lauderdale. The band was playing one of its first sets back in America after a string of U.K. and Australia gigs, and guitarist and singer Cole Alexander's dad was in the crowd to watch it all happen.
By the time South Florida’s own Plastic Pinks took the stage, the crowd was hungry. Heads bobbed as the local garage rock group fed the audience some much desired power chords. Plastic Pinks have described their sound as “rad city sticky pop” and we won’t argue with them – mostly because we’re not entirely sure what that means.
But call it whatever you want, these Miami dudes are enjoying a well-deserved moment in the South Florida musical sun. And at Culture Room, the five members of the band commanded an attention not typically given to opening acts – jumping around onstage in clothes so perfectly ‘90s that it was a shock none of them had a steak-sized cell phone clipped to their belts.
Black Lips walked onstage next and wasted no time before launching into their set. The crowd also wasted no time forming a mosh pit before Jared Swilley could even sing his first word. A saxophone player accompanied the band. The woman, who never did introduce herself, wore all black and wandered on and off stage, joining the boys every once and a while to wail out a solo for a few measures.
The Black Lips’ set ebbed and flowed, oscillating between the more subdued rockabilly — bluesy even – to the frantic and dirty garage rock the band is known for. The performance was all about the music, which was tight and polished, but still filthy and wild at its core. One stage dive by guitarist Jack Hines was the extent of any onstage antics.
Cole Alexander did throw-up during the third song of the night, and two more times a minute later. This is something that happens at Black Lips shows, Alexander vomiting. And it seems like a fun rock and roll gag until you realize that it’s not — for Alexander, at least.
“Cole has a gag reflex. He’s on medication. It used to be worse. It’s terrible for his vocals and teeth. He tries to control it. I guess it worked as a stage thing, but it’s not a put-on like people think,” Jared Swilley told New Times in an interview last week.
It’s most definitely not a gimmick and that’s made clear by Alexander’s body language, which is less fuck yeah here it comes and more oh fuck here it comes.
The band has made use of wild stunts in the past. "We would use shock tactics — like, we would kiss each other while we were playing and stuff. And that entertained the crowd for a couple years while we learned our instruments," Alexander told NPR in an interview a year ago.
But this didn't feel like that.
It’s obvious Alexander is not throwing up on purpose, and equally obvious he’s not exactly having fun doing it. He simply tosses his head aside discreetly and lets it out. The quicker he can get back to the music, the better.
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Folks who filed out early after the Black Lips said goodnight quickly rushed back inside when the band came onstage for an encore. They played their hit “Bad Kids” and the mosh pit doubled in diameter. After that it was goodnight for real.
It's easy to see why the Black Lips have been able to maintain and grow such a following over the past decade. Its music was born out of a post-Columbine frustration, and – as it did then — continues to resonate with the disenfranchised, frustrated, and “weird” youth of 2015. Those same bad kids who formed a band back in 1999 are still belting out their message on stage, and it's still one worth listening to. It's also fun as fuck to scream along.