Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Black Lips, 9/29 - Milwaukee, WI

Have you ever visited America's Rust Belt? The Rust Belt includes a group of mostly older cities situated along the shores of the Great Lakes, cities that once thrived on a robust industrial-manufacturing economy, but ultimately were not properly equipped to handle the nation's transformation into an intellectually involved service-driven powerhouse. Because these cities thrived on labor which could be contracted much more cheaply overseas, factories closed and jobs were lost. Those who weren't able to flee to the more prosperous Sun Belt cities saw their surroundings deteriorate while the homes formerly occupied by their neighbors were first vacated, later boarded up, and later still broken into by squatters, crackheads, gang leaders, and, now in some places, tycoon developers.

Milwaukee is one of these cities.

Neighborhoods once overwrought with drugs, violence, and desperation are now beginning a mild shift as the social glorification of urban living and the proliferation of fix-it-and-sell-it shows on cable tv have convinced young white-collared college grads that if they're willing to tough it out for a few years (during which they earn massive cool points and street cred from their peers), then either a.) they'll secure an ideal homestead without paying the trendy prices their less adventurous friends will be forced to grapple with, or b.) they can turn around the property's condition and sell it to one of their less adventurous friends once enough white kids have decided the hood is safe to move into.

Why this mostly speculative and poorly-researched lecture on modern urbanism in America? Because Mad Planet, where the Black Lips performed, is in one of these up-and-coming neighborhoods, Milwaukee's River West.

A bit further north and you've got UW-Milwaukee and the associated student ghetto, and a bit south you've got a highway and a non-university-affiliated real ghetto. In between, you get River West, an interesting borough where you can buy a recently-rehabbed luxury condominium with easy access to all the narcotics your heart could desire, right down the street (or in some cases, right at your doorstep!).

In all honesty, the neighborhood isn't that sketchy, and it seems pretty clear that the initial efforts will be validated with full-scale gentrification in the coming years.

Right now, though, it's the perfect setting for a Black Lips show. You see, while I can't outright criticize Madison for not having decent concert venues, I can openly lambast the town's lack of a veritable shithole dive. Madison's got the squeaky-clean we're-open-and-accepting-of-all-races-and-backgrounds- (at-least-superficially) -and-only-two-people-get-murdered-here-each-year thing going for it, and that kind of culture doesn't exactly make it easy to break ground on a speakeasy marketed towards bands who are reported to often draw blood and expel a disgusting variety of bodily fluids on each other (and occasionally the audience) during their live show.

On arriving at Mad Planet, it's useful to take note of the skulky characters holding down their corners or ambling aimlessly down Center St. looking for a fix or walking off the MD 20/20 in a disjointed stupor, so that you can be appropriately watchful of your wallet and valuables as you get out of the vehicle. In the half block from the parking lot to the club you'll undoubtedly pass by the two guards on duty to protect these vehicles, and take solace in the safety of the windows on your '93 Corolla.

Oh, not to mention you get to feel really cool because you're willing to brave some serious shit to see this appropriately gritty band. Black Lips' live album wasn't recorded in some sterile-as-shit dentist's office of a room because of the perfect sound and acoustic architecture, but rather in a fucking dive in Tijuana. Fucking Tijuana!

So how bout those Black Lips?


Normally I'll stick to the middle-back of a crowd, respecting the will of those in front of me who arrived early to stake out a premium view. Those rules did not apply at this show. Granted, a bunch of people didn't even leave the bar area before the Lips played (decent sets by the Selmanaires and Holy Mary Motor Club could be enjoyed from afar, as they were the bands who hipsters regard as apprentices of sorts, suffering through apathetic throngs of funnily-dressed social misfits in a rock and roll rite of passage), but still if you got up and moved up early you'd assume you'd be assured of that perfect view.

Are you pissed that I took your spot after the psychedelic punk flowed through the meat grinder and all over the fucking room? There was some bobbing, a lot of jumping, and a whole mess of outright organized chaos! (This was timid hipster chaos, so don't worry since no one was in any real danger of getting punched in the face or anything like that...). Black Lips kicked it off with the flawless "Lean" (reportedly inspired by Screwston, drank, and all that shit), and the mind-bending lyrical complexity of "Katrina" (maybe some backended criticism of the rise in crime rates in Atlanta [hometown of Black Lips] and Houston [hometown of yours, truly, and of aforementioned "Lean"] after the establishment of New Orleans gangs in new turfs after the hurricane evacuation and the FEMA debacle?), and then they muddied up the setlist by jumping back and forth across albums. There was lots of Let it Bloom, tons of Good, Bad, Not Evil, and I presume some older jams I'm not familiar with yet.

The energy levels were through the roof, both on stage and in front of it. I left the show drenched in sweat (not all of it my own--gross), beer, and hopefully nothing else. Particularly during "Not a Problem" I went insane, which makes sense because "Not a Problem" is a loud song with a simple infectuous guitar riff that leads into a vicious primal scream and entrancing narrative vocals before it rises and falls and ultimately culminates in the visceral yelled chorus that made my throat go raw when I sang along "(it's a problem)...NO IT'S NOT A PROBLEM TO ME...(It's a problem)...NO IT'S NOT A PROBLEM TO ME...".

Other highlights included "Bad Kids", "Sea of Blasphemy", "Can't Dance", "Cold Hands", "Dirty Hands", "Step Right Up", "Navajo", "Boomerang", "Everybody's Doin' It" and more and more and more. They blasted through quite a few songs before their tenure on stage wrapped up shortly before 2am. Notably absent from the setlist was "Gung Ho", which is only notable because I really love that song and I was yelling for them to play it between a lot of the other songs they played. It was loud, so they may not have heard me, but I think they were exercising their rock and roll cool muscles and passively telling me to piss off. I thank them for not kicking me in the face!

The moral of this story, kids, is that the Black Lips and no one else are the prodigal saviors of rock and roll. Veni Vedi Vici.

Anti-Bears: 4.8
I had to knock off points for the bassist telling me they wouldn't be at SXSW next year, and for no bloodshed on stage. Otherwise, it was a spectacular display that left my muscles aching the next day.

Bears: 2.4
My muscles ached the next day, which was not very comfortable, but I kind of enjoyed it. Most of the bears are due to omission of "Gung Ho" from the setlist and because of that one guy in the red sleeveless shirt who didn't think it appropriate to apply that stick of Degree before the show. If you're gonna stink like an asshole (edit - this pun was completely unintentional), at least keep your arms down. I almost passed out and I don't think I was the only one.


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