Musical Musings: Black Lips at The Basement
I already had the ideal experience with The Black Lips two years ago. On the cusp of blowing up, they came to Athens, Ohio's dirty rock 'n' roll bar The Union on a Wednesday night and proceeded to destroy us with a raw, rowdy dose of beach-party garage rock. That was the perfect bar for this band—dark and retro and a little dirty around the fringes. And you could, you know, see them on stage.
The Basement is the wrong place for these guys for several reasons, and Tuesday night's show was a reminder of those reasons. For one thing, I'm beginning to think the Basement is the wrong place for any band. Randy Hicks does a great job booking the room, but I always bristle at the thought of going there. As mentioned in this space before, you have to arrive early enough to fit in the pit in front of the stage if you want to see anything, and with a novelty act as awful as Quintron and Miss Pussycat opening the show, there's no way I'm showing up that early. They need to take a month or two and redesign the inside so everybody can see.
Aside from the usual Basement complaints, this pairing of band and venue seemed particularly wrong. The Black Lips are tailor-made for the dirty dives they came up in, the kind of place where beer is cheap and the bathrooms are disgusting. Seeing them in this slick, corporate setting didn't jibe—that is, when I could see them at all. (Thanks, pillars!)
But what about their performance?
The Atlanta quartet isn't quite as rambunctious as they used to be, but from time to time Tuesday they showed flashes of the raw power they conjured up two years back. Their opening number failed to rouse the crowd, but choosing to follow it with single "O Katrina" proved a wise choice. Soon the band was bouncing, the pit was bobbing and a hurricane's worth of beer was flying.
The musicians never quite recaptured that vigor. Their best songs—"Boomerang" and "Not a Problem," for instance—shone brightly, but as with any genre, these psych-punk nuggets start to blur together when the songwriting starts to slip. Maybe it would have had a stronger impact had I been caught up in the chaos in front of the stage, but I have my doubts. The show simply wasn't as exciting as what they used to do, and that's not even considering the absence of firecrackers, urine and nudity.
Two reasons for the letdown come to mind. I'm not intimately familiar with their catalog, so part of the problem could have been their song selection. Maybe they didn't build the strongest setlist possible, relying on too many filler tracks and dragging dirges. Or perhaps these were mostly the same songs of two years ago, and they simply didn't rock them with the same urgency. I'd wager both reasons played a part in desensitizing the experience.
Regardless of why the concert became tedious, I was ready to depart by the time they exited stage left. The set wearied me to the point that I didn't want to see an encore. It's a shame to draw that kind of conclusion about a group that was once one of the best live bands in America. On second thought, maybe the corporate backdrop works for them now after all.