Let’s get one thing straight: punk is dead. It died when the Clash called it quits, and again when CBGB’s closed, and again when Fall Out Boy came into existence. But Wednesday night a crowd of white t-shirts, leather jackets and pent-up aggression descended upon the Bowery Ballroom and did their damnedest to bring it back.
Opening act Box Elders, a trio comprised of double guitar, double bass and a half-drummer-half-keyboardist-half-jack-in-the-box, brought their “garage punk” straight to the ceiling. The Elders played a raw, no bullshit half-hour set that left a lasting impression on the near-capacity crowd. Their short songs are to the point and heavily driven by the rhythm section, mainly drummer Dave Goldberg who regularly stashes his drumstick in his teeth to free up his left hand to play keys or just to wave it wildly in the air. All in all, it was a perfect warm-up for what was to come.
As the feature presentation for the evening, the Black Lips, jumped on stage, the now fully packed house joined them—literally. Throughout the show, fans climbed on stage to dance (if you can call it dancing) and soon jumped right back off, hoping to be caught and tossed around by the throngs of fans pushing and shoving below. Beers were thrown and the smell of marijuana smoke lingered heavily, much to the pleasure of the musicians, who continually thanked everyone for providing both incense and inspiration.
Musically, the Black Lips aren’t doing anything new. If anything, they are a welcome throwback to the old school, namely the bop of the Ramones and the energy of the Adicts. From the basic power chords and heavy guitar solos to wearing what looks like a Confederate Army uniform on stage (as did guitarist Cole Alexander for this Union show), much of what they are doing has been done before. At the very least, the Black Lips embody the spirit of a punk show—a carefree couple of hours away from the real world. At the most, they do what they do and don’t worry about much else.
Sometimes it’s hard to accept the fact that some bands don’t find it necessary to nail vocal harmonies or write separate musical sections into each song. You may think that today, 30 years after the dawn of punk, our musical culture is so dead that we cannot think of anything more to do than scream into a microphone (albeit somewhat melodically if not harmoniously) and bounce around stage like a pogo stick. But in the end, isn’t seeing live music just about having fun? There are countless shows every night where stuffy hipsters pretentiously stand stiff listening to music that should make them move—that should make them feel something—and ever fewer each day where you can feel comfortable acting like a complete clown (welcome to Williamsburg, Brooklyn).
However, the show the Black Lips put on is nothing close to that. They encourage their fans to dance on stage, drink underage and do drugs. Perhaps they are not the most responsible people in the world, and certainly not the greatest role models, but the society we live in today still feels like someone needs to open a window and let in some fresh air so that people can feel free to act a little crazy and hold nothing back (besides the possible vomit caused from the combination of too much beer mixed with too much uncontrolled thrashing). A show like this opens that window for those who desire something a bit more extreme than a festival in the woods, but instead prefer a dark, crowded room with beer soaked floors and plenty of flailing and screaming. In the end, it’s cutting loose that really matters.