[Live Review and Photographs] Black Lips at the Great American Music Hall


Despite the fact that I live across the street from the Great American Music Hall, I somehow manage to show up way, way too early. Instead of heading back inside and doing something productive, I decide to go pound beers until show time. Choices, ladies and gentlemen—I make the right ones.

Now, I expect many things from the night, but a punk show is not one of them. There are two opening bands. The first is called Personal and the Pizzas, and they play Ramones-style songs about food. The crowd loves it and demands an encore. To my amazement, they get one. I’ve never seen an opening band on a 3-band bill at the Great American play an encore. I feel like I’m watching a bar show. It’s so loose. The second band is called Cerebral Ballzy (I almost fell over laughing when they said that), and they play throwback 80s hardcore. The singer spends the show rolling on the stage and climbing the speakers and screaming. They manage to get a huge circle pit started, and people are stage diving and crowd surfing like it’s a thing. I can only think one thing: this audience is amazing.

I wonder whether the Black Lips will be able to maintain the vibe. They’re known for their stage antics, but their music isn’t nearly as fast. But within seconds of their opening notes, it’s clear I shouldn’t have questioned. The crowd is bouncing up and down as one. From my perch on the balcony, it looks like some ancient sea anemone undulating on the ocean floor. Of course I decide to join. There’s so much energy in the air it’s palpable. Crowd surfers are rising and falling, beer cups are flying through the air, people are climbing on stage and dancing, and it’s all fueled by the Black Lips’ weird pirate rock. Let me say this: however you feel about their recorded work, they’re better live. Way better. The songs sound excellent, the energy is wild, and they clearly attract a rowdy crowd. People are throwing as much beer as they’re drinking (which is a lot), and right before the last song, someone tosses a toilet paper roll off the balcony. A toilet paper roll? Really?

The band is on tour supporting a new album called Arabia Mountain, which I like better than some of their older stuff. It’s musically stronger. But as I said, the live show is where it’s at, so next time they swing through, consider checking them out. It’s the most punk rock show I’ve been to all year, and the Black Lips aren’t even a punk rock band. Strange times we live in. Strange times indeed.

[audio:http://www.sfcritic.com/wp-content/uploads/08-Bad-Kids.mp3|titles=Bad Kids]