Since the Black Lips signed to Vice Records a few years back, part of their marketing push has been to put this notorious band of garage punks, known just as much for their onstage tomfoolery as their ramshackle take on the sounds of the Sixties, in strange settings and see what happens. They’ve been to Israel. They’ve been to India, and almost didn’t make it back. And while Cleveland may not be the exotic locale on par with Jerusalem and Chennai, that didn’t make last night’s show at the Beachland Ballroom any less adventurous, for the band, and for the fans in the front row.
Ask anyone who’s been following the band for any length of time and they’ll quickly offer up their favorite Black Lips tale. Most involve drunkenness, pissing, inter band make out sessions, or some combination of the three. With three opening acts on the bill at the Beachland (The Weakends, Hot Cha Cha, and then Gentleman Jesse and His Men), the Black Lips and their fans, both had plenty of time to get themselves primed with Pabsts for a night of revelry and Rock ‘N’ Roll.
Immediately upon taking the stage, you could sense guitarist/vocalist Cole Alexander, bassist/vocalist Jared Swilley, drummer Joe Bradley, and guitarist Ian Saint Pe of the Black Lips were intent on topping their last Cleveland appearance in ’08, when they played to a half filled Ballroom, and delivered what has to be labeled a mild performance by their standards.
With an early set focused on their back catalog (“Sea of Blasphemy,” “Dirty Hands,” and “Katrina,”) the band their fans quickly worked themselves into a frenzy. There was dancing, jiving, shucking, and beer showers for every one lining the front of the stage. The slow, almost spiritual “Hippy Hippy Hurrah,” baked in heavy, heavy echo, gave the crowd a brief respite. Then, things went into overdrive with the Black Lips putting their full, uninhibited force behind such rowdy rockers like “M.I.A,” “Not a Problem,” and”Cold Hands,” placing the whole joint on the brink of totally losing their sh*t.
Now, we had a problem. Conflicting reports have emerged, but what I gleaned from the Black Lips publicist is this: It seems one unruly fan felt a photographer wasn’t wearing enough beer and decided to give her and Black Lips guitarist Jared Swilley, a good dousing. A fracas erupted in front with Swilley momentarily leaving the stage as the crowd turned on the beer bather. Ambulance, fire, and police would later be on the scene, and one crowd member was stretchered out of the venue. Again, this is according to the Black Lips management, I was told in plain and certain terms, Swilley had nothing to do with any violence or injuries which occurred as a result of the brief melee or any other incidents which may have happened during the show.
Understandably, it took the band a couple moments to gather themselves at this point, but once the melee cleared, they were able to regain their “form.” Of course for the Black Lips, form is a relative term. “Buried Alive,” “Bad Kids,” and “Fairy Stories,” were all delivered with such recklessness each song threatened to regress into a drunken, sloppy, shout a long between the band and its fans. Needless to say, the crowd loved every minute of those blurred guitars and bouncing beats.
Gentleman Jesse and His Men were given the unenviable task of whipping up the crowd prior to the Black Lips. While their Seventies style power pop (Think Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and Stiff Records) sounds mighty fine on disc, they seemed to struggle at times as they tried too hard to fill the bigger room with sound. When they concentrate solely on the jams, and they have plenty, including “You Don’t Have to If You Don’t Want To,” “Butterfingers,” and “All I Need Tonight (Is You),” no extra oomph is needed. The first band of the night, The Weakends, suffered a similar fate. They played the type of garage rock, with a tint of country and rockabilly, which would likely have left you floored, had you stumbled onto them in a small club show at the Tavern next door.
Locals, Hot Cha Cha, rounded out the night’s line up, taking the spot between the Weakends and Gentleman Jesse. While their danceable post punk was a bit of a misfit in relation to the night’s other bands, that didn’t seem to bother their charismatic, lead singer Jovana Batkovic one bit. Sporting one of her trademark unitards, she led the band through a tight set, hilited not by her outlandish stage persona, but by the guitar work of band mate Mandy Aramouni, whose sharply tuned riffs are quickly becoming just as essential to Hot Cha Cha’s success as Batkovic’s antics.
UPDATE: Local photographer/videographer Lou Muenz caught some of the incident between the Black Lips Jared Swilley and the rowdy beer bather on film. Unfortunately, his camera is pointed on stage as all the action is happening around him. He did, however, provide comments in the video, providing a little more insight of what really went down.