The Black Lips at Varsity Theater, 4/23/11
The Black Lips April 23, 2011 Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Saturday night shows at the Varsity Theater are always kind of rowdy affairs. The venue in the middle of the University of Minnesota campus and inevitably drunken college kids are in attendance. This isn't a complaint; it just is. It's an added element at each show and it brings a certain kind of energy into the crowd.
As a superhero-ish theme song similar to Superman's blared over the sound system, the Black Lips geared up, and from the outset it was clear the crowd was waiting for the mayhem to begin. The Black Lips are notorious for their stage antics, which over the years have included such things as nudity, vomiting and--inexplicably--electric R.C. car races. But above all of that is the music. There's something about the Lips' songs that is both incredibly simplistic and dangerously addictive. It's an oddly flavored soup made up of punk, country, blues, and garage rock, along with several other things, and once you have the taste for it, you want it all the time.
The clearly well-lubricated band ripped into song after song, including several from their upcoming release Arabian Mountain. "This is a brand new song about art--we are artists," said lead singer/rhythm guitarist Cole Alexander before they slammed into "Modern Art," and that point, roughly 20 minutes into the show, was when the crowd really started to get rowdy. The mosh pit--already gigantic in size even by today's standards--kept growing outward and back, eventually swallowing up all but the very edges of the floor toward the front and the makeshift photo pit directly in front of the stage. It was '90s-vintage pit: beer and sweat flying everywhere, everyone pushing, jumping, laughing and singing along.
Somewhere in there, it became obvious: there is a distinct difference between whiskey-soaked rock and beer-soaked rock. The Black Lips are firmly in the latter category and the crowd followed suit--maybe a little too much so in some cases, as at one point toward the end of the set a woman in her early 20s was ejected from the venue for throwing punches at a guy in the pit; it was unclear exactly what had happened but the bouncers were quick to act. Somewhere between the pit, the free-flowing (and often hurled at the stage and onto the crowd) beer, Cole Alexander's amusing, is-he-serious? comments from stage, and the beautiful racket that Alexander and company foisted upon us, a great show happened. It was shambolic, messy, loud and crude and every single second of it was beautiful. The superhero theme song that played at the beginning of the show wasn't hubris, it was a harbinger.
Critic's Bias: I had heard about the insane antics of the band at previous Black Lips shows my friends had attended. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't slightly disappointed that this one was comparatively tame. The Crowd: Rambunctious and alcohol-fueled. Being one of the few sober people in the room was highly amusing. Overheard In The Crowd: Multiple drunken, disjointed rambling stories that all ended up amounting to nothing. Random Notebook Dump: This crowd is absolutely electrified, it's stunning. For more photos: See our full slideshow by Dave Eckblad, including shots of openers Vivian Girls.
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