Some time ago, the Black Lips crossed into Tijuana and came out with more than just a bag of churros and a gut full of Tecate. They brought back a whole live album. Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo was released in 2007 and captures the band characteristically romping through a half-hour set full of sweaty, drunken garage rock (or what the band calls “flower punk”). The term was coined after one too many overblown descriptions were used to pin down the band’s sound. As drummer and screamer Joe Bradley put it, “Spin or some other magazine called us ninth-hand rock-a-billy garage core, and that was the last straw.” So, since then, the band has opted for a moniker that’s both “tough and wimpy.”
“It’s kind of a paradox,” Bradley said.
The only downside to the album is the handful of antics that typically mark a Black Lips live performance – nudity, urinating, vomiting, fireworks, large blonde wigs, etc. – that can’t really be captured on an audio recording. But that’s what YouTube is for.
As exotic as Tijuana sounds, it’s just one of several international destinations that’s hosted the Black Lips recently. The band traveled to Israel and the West Bank last year for a series of shows. According to Bradley, many American bands promise to perform in the Holy Land but ultimately bail, so their accomplishment has helped the group’s popularity in the region.
“In Israel, they treat us really, really well, ’cause no band goes down there. The Red Hot Chili Peppers promised them a concert for a long time, but I guess Anthony Kiedis isn’t down with the Jews,” Bradley joked.
While other musical acts are more concerned with performing in larger venues, the Black Lips seem attune to a more global perspective.
“We want to offer our music to all the places in the world,” Bradley said. “If we can establish that relationship with people, they’ll remember you there for life.”
This mantra might help explain why the band seems content to tour less-frequented venues. In Palestine, the band actually performed in the street, drawing the audience in with a rendition of “Johnny B. Goode.”
With its latest release, Good Bad Not Evil, the Black Lips have an even wider arsenal of material to stretch out during a live show. A new twist the album brings to the table is a greater appreciation for country music. Standout track “How Do You Tell A Child That Someone Has Died” is about as country as you can get in indie rock, outside of Jason Molina. When asked about the unexpected influence, Bradley made an easy-to-follow distinction between good and bad country: “We love country music. But you got to cut it off after 1974. Something went sour. Maybe they threw away the original recipe.”
The single consistent factor in the band’s live show is an undeniable feeling of love. It’s typical to see crowd members strip and drop to the floor, presumably to groove, but probably to vomit a little bit, too. And the guys in the band certainly aren’t afraid to show their affection for one another, having been known to make out on occasion. The good spirits that arise during a Black Lips show are, of course, derived from the music, but there must be something else that makes the band’s concerts so scandalous and exhilarating.
“It must be a whole lot of alcohol,” Bradley said. “The two go together quite nicely.”
Despite touring constantly, the Black Lips seem to pack a wallop at each individual show, and Thursday night in Detroit shouldn’t be any different. Bradley warns that those who decide not to go will “miss 100 percent of the shots.” But if you do show up, the band will throw out a shot of something for you. Just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t taste like whiskey, or any other alcohol for that matter.