The Great American Music Hall opened its hallowed doors Monday (and Tuesday) night for the lunacy of Atlanta’s Black Lips. It’s tempting to say that the Lips’ brand of garage-punk went out of style shortly after the 1972 release of Lenny Kaye’s famous Nuggets compilation, but in truth this kind of music has always lived in the margins of popular culture. It’s no coincidence that the Lips were mentored by Bomp! Records impresario Greg Shaw. The living legacy of Shaw’s musical vision was on display Monday night, and it was a sight to behold: pop music laced with the psychedelic fuzz of garage rock and performed with the frantic, anything-goes spirit of punk.
The gilded hall was about half full – to be expected considering the day of the week and the musical margins mentioned above. But this was no passive audience, content to sit back and nod along. More than half the people in the building were involved in a rather feisty mosh pit, and the energy on the floor was matched by the whirling dervishes on stage. When the band launched into ‘O Katrina!’ and ‘Bad Kids’ the stage became an ocean beach, pounded by wave upon wave of bodies. By the end of the night, that stage was littered with crushed beer cups, stray brassieres, a set of car keys, and a lone Chuck Taylor high top. Impressive damage for a crowd of about 300 people.
Black Lips are gloriously ragged, but there’s a method to their madness. Drummer Joe Bradley is steady as a rock, and bassist Jared “Hondo” Swilley is on point enough of the time to provide a solid bottom, freeing guitarists Cole Alexander and Ian St. Pe – and I swear I’m not making these names up – to wander off key, elicit feedback with their mic stands, or climb the speaker stack in a big floppy pilgrim hat. Late in their set, Alexander (the pilgrim) called to the stage hands “I’m tangled up real bad here.” He was talking about the myriad chords connected to his effect pedals, but could easily have been referring to his band’s psychedelic web of sound.