Weird, over-the-top bands tend to attract weird, over-the-top fans. Witness
the incident that recently greeted Atlanta garage-rockers and
self-proclaimed "flower punks" the Black Lips when their tour stopped in New
With no prodding from the musicians, a 57-year-old fan wearing
Rollerblades climbed to the top of the giant stainless steel globe in front
of the Trump International Hotel and Tower at Columbus Circle and tossed
fliers advertising the gig to the passersby below. The New York newspapers
reported that he was arrested for disorderly conduct and criminal
trespassing. The band says the man got out of jail and came right to the
"That was really, really surreal," bassist Jared Swilley says. "He was
just a fan, and he was really old. He reminded me a lot of Sky Saxon. We
actually did four shows with [Saxon] and the Seeds a while back. I'm not
sure he really knew who we were -- he wasn't all there -- but it was cool."
With their 2003 self-titled debut on Bomp! Records and their new album,
"Good Bad Not Evil," on New York's hipster Vice label, the Black Lips have
emerged as proud inheritors of the raucous garage-rock sound pioneered by
the Seeds, the band that gave us the immortal "Pushin' Too Hard." At the
same time, the Georgia group's relentlessly high-energy gigs -- which have
been known to include vomiting, urination, spontaneous nudity, fireworks and
other forms of drunken debauchery -- have marked it as a band that must be
seen to be believed.
"I've always considered the live show the core of what we do," Swilley
says. "Touring gets old sometimes -- it seems like we're about two years
into this tour right now, and we won't get a break until the holidays -- but
this is what we do."
Given their reputation for incendiary antics, is it ever hard to meet the
fans' expectations night after night?
"No, and I wouldn't want to play a show if we didn't give it everything
we have," Swilley says. "Even if I'm exhausted and everything's gone bad
that day, I wouldn't want to play a show where we didn't go all out. Why
should anybody in the club care if the band doesn't? Like I said, playing
shows is what we do, and we like what we do. Even if we've had 23 [crappy]
hours before, this is the one we've been looking forward to."
Swilley, guitarists Cole Alexander and Ben Eberbaugh and drummer Joe
Bradley formed the band in 2000. Although they were all still teenagers,
they embraced the classic "Nuggets" garage bands of the mid-'60s, updating
that sound on several indie singles and building an audience on the road.
Just before the start of a tour in December 2002, Eberbaugh was killed when
his car was struck by a drunk driver. His bandmates forged ahead, convinced
that their friend would have wanted them to continue. (The group is now
completed by guitarist Ian "St. Pe" Brown.)
"I think about what Ben would make of the band now all the time," Swilley
says. "We've come a long way, and it's kind of hard to believe. I can't
believe how many people have been coming out to see us in these places where
the first time we played, there were, like, four people. It took a long
time, but it's really nice that it's finally happening."
The group memorably played 12 shows over three days during last year's
South by Southwest Music Festival, and "Good Bad Not Evil" has been lauded
in the pages of Spin and Rolling Stone, with good reason. Songs such as "O
Katrina!," which addresses the hurricane as a woman and asks why she had to
be so mean, and the country spoof "How Do You Tell a Child That Someone Has
Died" offer driving rhythms, memorable hooks, endearingly humorous lyrics
and a timeless quality that marks the Black Lips as much more than clowns or
"The garage crowd is kind of a limited audience," Swilley says. "I still
love Bomp! -- that's what got me into all the cool music I'm into now -- but
I was never into all the '80s revival stuff. We were never like garage
purists, or any kind of purists."
It's true: The words "pure" and "the Black Lips" should probably never be
used in the same sentence. But fans, with or without Rollerblades, wouldn't
have it any other way.