Black Lips came to party Saturday night in Atlanta.
A dozen beer cans went airborne before the quartet played a note at their one-off hometown show, and they weren’t coming solely from the crowd. Guitarist Ian St. Pé smashed a PBR tallboy on his head and hurled it into the sold-out 1,000-capacity Variety Playhouse. Fittingly, the six new songs the band debuted were rowdy rock jams, the ideal soundtrack to a riotous house party.
The majority of the new songs (each introduced by St. Pe, shouting a variation of, “Holy shit, folks, here comes another brand-new one!”), are a direct descendant of their more raucous early albums, like 2005’s Let It Bloom and 2007’s Good Bad Not Evil, prizing melody and swiftness over theatrics and weirdness, which dominated their 2009 release, 200 Million Thousand.
But that’s just the music. Onstage things certainly got weird.
On an unnamed newbie led by whistling, the band was joined by a friend in corpsepaint, wearing an all-black elf outfit and a strap-on. Throughout the show, concertgoers (both girls and boys) climbed onto the stage and kissed members of the band, and later dozens of plastic balls were thrown into the crowd. Guitarist/singer Cole Alexander (notorious for spitting on himself at gigs) even showed off his new technique. He’d affix a loogie to the back of his guitar, hold it above his head and shake it back into his mouth.
St. Pé even sang lead, on another untitled new song about high school. On “Dumpster Diving,” the lone new track deviating from their melodic garage punk model, the band experimented with country sounds and invited a special guest to join them onstage: Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, who played tambourine, grinned, and danced about.
If Black Lips’ latest sound wasn’t obvious enough, another banger laid it out literally via a groupsung chorus: “I’ve been looking in a new direction.”
Indeed. And it’s a well-suited direction for Black Lips, even if it’s best described as a step back. Perhaps that new trajectory (and the desire to try out fresh material on the clearly-ready-to-party hometown crowd) explains why not a single track from 200 Million Thousand made the set list.
Earlier songs like “Bad Kids” and “Dirty Hands” scored the best receptions, but it was on deep cut “Notown Blues” (from 2004’s We Did Not Know the Forest Spirit Made the Flowers Grow) that the show truly unraveled.
As drummer Joe Bradley tore it up on organ and Cox took his place behind the kit, the stage overflowed with concertgoers. A security guard got a face full of beer, and microphones were pulled into a black hole of sweaty hands.
Following a short break, during which the still-dripping security guard attempted to reclaim the equipment, Alexander returned for an apparent encore.
“Are we done?” he said, looking toward the sound board. “I guess we’re done,” he answered himself, high-fiving fans as the curtain closed. Like any good house party, this one was shut down by the authorities.