The Great American Music Hall was a soupy, sweaty mess of swamp-like proportions before the Black Lips had even taken the stage Monday night. The crowd, buzzing with the combined excitement of intoxication and anticipation, erupted into howls and screeches as the band took the stage in a puff of fog-machine smoke. From behind the mist, one of the Black Lips yelled into the mic, “If you wanna be smart, read a goddamn book. If you wanna have fun, you’re in the right goddamn place!” And so it began.
The Black Lips are notorious for their raucous, maniacal live presence, often accented with vomit, blood, and piss. The fans, familiar with the reputation and eager to partake, were rowdy and ready for shenanigans from the first distorted chord. The Black Lips’ brand of garage rock is fun and rollicking, but certainly not the sort of heavy metal or hardcore that one would expect to produce the kind of reckless moshing and stagediving that persisted through the entire set.
Standing still was not an option (see above shaky photos). I watched as bystanders were swept into whirlpools of bodies and slimed by shirtless perspirers. The best — and only — option was to join in and dance with abandon.
What this Black Lips set lacked in vomit and blood was certainly made up for in nudity and playful sexuality. Just three songs in, a young woman ripped her top off and jumped into the crowd. Moments later a young man who had climbed onto the stage planted a kiss on the surprised mouth of the security guard who tried to apprehend him.
Meanwhile, in the crowd, audience members literally wrestled — Greco-Roman style — on the filthy floor as the man to my left happily pressed a beer can to his already blackening eye.
As the floors quaked and the Lips screamed, it was impossible not to bask in the collective joyful insanity. The band itself, while playing with enthusiasm and embracing crazed fans crawling across the stage like so many fire ants without a flinch, did very little to contribute to the wild vivacity of the gig.
The Black Lips’ reputation brings together the perfect storm of adrenaline junkies and rock’n’roll enthusiasts to make a great show happen regardless of their own actions. Even their slow songs — songs that in any other circumstances and played by any other band would be met with mellow, stationary gazes — were met with crowdsurfers and a sort of slow-motion moshing.
The frenetic energy that swept the crowd during beloved songs, most notably — and most appropriately — 2008’s “Bad Kids” was an indescribable high. Hundreds of screaming voices and jostling bodies jumped and lunged to the explosive chorus, singing “bad kids, all my friends are bad kids” and screaming, “kids like you and me!”
When the Black Lips filed off the stage and the lights came up, I surveyed the damage. Beer cans, sweatshirts, and single shoes littered the floor. Sweaty fans in all states of undress stumbled out of the beautiful, ornate venue and into the mercifully cool night, hooting and shouting about their new battle scars.