Last Night: Black Lips and Vivian Girls at The Loft

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Black Lips, Vivian Girls
The Loft
April 28, 2011

Better than: holding your dirty hand.

You can tell that the Black Lips have been around for almost a decade at this point. It's clear from the very start of their performance -- although not necessarily because their offerings are especially crisp.

Actually, it's quite the opposite: The Black Lips' headlining performance at The Loft last night was a jangly and fuzzy set, one filled with questionable antics and on-stage banter about partying and drinking and emergency hospital trips. And yet, somehow, despite this wheels-off, rip-roaring nature, it just felt incredibly well-rehearsed and practiced.

The lesson here: It's good to be good at being bad.

Indeed: It's a fine line that the Black Lips walk, both in their live show and on their records, as they proffer a certain gross-out, bad-boy charm in tandem with some of the catchiest retro-pop you're likely to hear.

On record, you hear it in the subject matter on a song such as "Bad Kids," and also in its delivery. Guitarist and vocalist Cole Alexander's especially to credit for as much; his Little Rascals-esque, poorly enunciated delivery of tales of revelry, such as on perhaps the band's biggest hit, "Dirty Hands," would be borderline cloying were it not well-suited for the track.

Live, you see them go for this angle right away, too. Alexander, just a song into his band's hour-long performance, spits straight up into the air above him, his loogie landing on one the pipes on the ceiling above The Loft's stage. Then, he positions himself to await its return, camped out and playing his guitar with his head craned upward and his mouth open as the loogie starts to drop down back home.

Stomach-turning stuff? The band sure hopes so. Whether their antics are authentic, fabricated or an encouraged combination of both isn't the point; the point is that, in many regards, this is the behavior that lends their music the most credibility -- not unlike the rappers who craft false drug-dealing back stories to up their legitimacy.

The crowd eats it up; for them it's an exercise in fantasy. Up front at this show, scores of clean-cut youths bought into it fully, moshing and pogoing away in time with the band's music and its members' own bouncing. It was justifiable, too: The Black Lips seem intent on proving themselves the jewel in the lo-fi retro-pop world's cap.

And, over the course of last night's sweaty, encore-less performance, they made one heck of a case.

The same, unfortunately, couldn't be said about Vivian Girls, who for all their hype, performed a rather lackluster, low-energy set that leaned too heavily on the band's songbook and, especially in comparison to the Lips, came off as too reserved. Their songs are strong and catchy enough, sure, but, in live settings, they somewhat trip over themselves, with their turned-up fuzz dominating the mix. On this night, they sounded more like a generic, early '90s next-big-grunge-thing than anything else.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
Never seen either band before although I own and enjoy most of both bands' catalogs. Still I'd heard plenty about the Black Lips' live show over the years. It very much lived up to those expectations.

Random Note: Lips guitarist Ian Saint Pé Brown stood in front of the bathroom mirror for a good five minutes after his band's set, engaged in an all-too-genuine conversation with his band's fans about whether he should grow his hair out into an Afro. Kind of awesome.

By The Way: Alexander, at the start of his band's set, told the crowd to be prepared to take him to the nearest hospital. So here's the question: From The Loft at night, considering you'd be using highways, which would be the faster trip: getting to Baylor or getting to Southwestern?

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