Black Lips return to their wild roots with a rowdy, intimate bar show, showcasing new country-inspired songs and old favorites.
Atlanta’s “flower punk” rockers Black Lips are currently on the road on a co-headlining tour with Danish punk band Iceage, supported by Brooklyn-based punk band Surfbort. The tour kicked off on November 5th in Vancouver, British Columbia and continued down the west coast, including five California dates. As is apparently customary for me (I did the same thing in 2015), I chose to see my favorite band twice: first in Tustin, then in San Diego. While the San Diego show was sufficiently fun and memorable, the show in Tustin felt like the kind of special night that I might not get to experience again anytime soon.
When Black Lips announced this fall tour in June, I researched the venues for other Southern California dates to decide if the House of Blues in San Diego on November 13th would suffice as the lone date I’d attend. Marty’s on Newport in Tustin, California on November 11th stood out to me. I’d never heard of the place, and my only connection to Tustin was stopping at a Denny’s there on the way to Los Angeles in February. Some Google searches quickly revealed to me that Marty’s has a capacity of 150, and is basically just a bar that somehow manages to book pretty well-known touring bands. I bought my ticket the minute they went on sale.
Fast forward to November and I was curious about what this show at Marty’s would actually be like. Upon arriving to the venue just after 8:00, I realized that Marty’s is, in fact, just a bar. It’s located in an old strip mall next to a nail salon and an Indian grocery store. Parking is scarce, and various Yelp reviews warn that parking in the other businesses’ spots will result in a tow and a $375 charge. Yikes. Once inside, however, Marty’s felt intimate and homey. The u-shaped bar takes up a decent amount of the already-small space, and there are four or five booths along the back wall. It reminded me of the single bar in my small, northern British Columbia hometown, where classic rock cover bands rule the stage and you know 75% of the people on the dance floor. Throughout the night, members of all three bands on the night’s bill could be observed wading through the slowly-growing crowd. I pulled up a stool at the bar and kept a careful watch on “my” (mentally reserved for me, by me) front-row-center spot in front of the stage, which stood at knee-level for me and shin level for taller folks. There were no barricades or security in sight – be still, my heart.
Just before 9:00 I took my spot against the stage, and Surfbort began shortly after. Lead vocalist Dani Miller’s sequined hot pants and suit jacket covered in pornographic images were immediately eye-catching, and the photographers descended upon the front row (no photo pit here, either) to get their shots. Surfbort’s music is loud and effervescent, pure punk fun complemented by Miller’s dancing and gesticulations. The band recently released their debut full-length record, Friendship Music, and we were treated to a lot of their new songs during the half-hour set.
After a short break (quick turnaround between bands, a major benefit of a small venue), Iceage began their set. I think the sound was a little off, as Elias Ronnenfelt’s vocals were sometimes difficult to make out. Regardless, the music sounded great, with Iceage’s vaguely post-punk sound getting the crowd moving. The area directly in front of Ronnenfelt was somewhat of a danger zone, as the lead vocalist slipped a few times and nearly fell into the crowd. There was also a close call with his mic and my face towards the end of their set, but thankfully I was uninjured and Ronnenfelt made sure of this before continuing. All in all, Iceage provided an exciting experience to go along with their music. What’s a punk show without a little danger?
Around 11:15, Black Lips took the stage amid cheers from the tightly packed crowd. Vocalist and bassist Jared Swilley addressed us with his usual greeting, “We’re the Black Lips from Atlanta, Georgia. Thank y’all for coming out!”, as the first notes of “Can’t Hold On” (from 2017’s Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?) rang out. The moshpit opened up behind me soon after and it remained there for the rest of the night. I’d spend the next hour getting jostled around by the 21+ crowd that could still bring the rowdiness I usually only see at all-ages shows.
“O Katrina”, “Dirty Hands”, “Family Tree”, and “Stranger”, all staples at a Black Lips show, were met with the expected enthusiasm and singing along. Songs from their upcoming country record, including “Delia”, “Georgia”, and “Gentleman”, were well-received and gave some indication of the new sound Black Lips is exploring. In the end, songs from seven of the band’s eight full-length records were played, leaving out any selections from 2009’s 200 Million Thousand. It’s not their most well-known or commercially successful record, but I’d love to see “Drugs” make its way onto their setlist again. Also curiously missing from the night’s setlist was “Sea of Blasphemy” from 2005’s Let It Bloom, which the band often opens with. However, I suppose as more songs get added to the rotation, some unfortunately have to be retired.
Throughout the night, the band seemed to be in very good spirits, and I had a feeling this was the closest I would ever get to the wild, messy, sloppy Black Lips shows of yesteryear that I’ve only read about. Mic stands fell, caught by the hands of fans and the feet of the band. Necks of guitars swung out dangerously close to faces in the front row. Beers on stage were spilled, beers in the crowd were thrown. I was propelled forward onto the stage countless times, landing in a push-up position with my knees slamming into the sharp edge of the stage. Over a week later and I still have the bruises.
At the conclusion of any show, literally the only thing in the world I ever want is water. The leftover, unopened bottles of water that littered the stage called out to me as beacons of hope. Perhaps my adoring gaze was obvious, because as Black Lips’ tour manager Matt Williams cleared the stage of bottles and cans before the encore, he handed a full bottle of water right to me. I’ve never felt more VIP (and hydrated) in my life. I then reached over and took a setlist, because I’m a selfish person. You have to go after what you want, you see.
As I enjoyed my free water and ignored the throbbing in my heavily bruised knees, Black Lips returned to the stage for a couple more songs. As the crowd shouted out their requests, I was in the perfect position to make mine to Jared. “Wild Man!” I called out, referring to the 1967 single by the Tamrons – it’s one of my favorite songs that the band plays live. “Yeah, we’re going to play that one!” he replied, to which I visibly swooned (hand against chest, eyes up towards the sky). Be still, my heart. After “Wild Man”, which was as fun as I’d remembered, the band launched into “Bow Down and Die”, a song they’d recorded and released as The Almighty Defenders, a garage rock/gospel supergroup with King Khan and Mark Sultan of The King Khan & BBQ Show. And with that, they were gone, likely off to Los Angeles to prepare for their show at the Regent Theater the following night.
I’m usually happy with the size of venues that Black Lips plays, and their shows are always a great time. However, I don’t know that a band that’s reached the level of success and notoriety that Black Lips has will play many more 150-capacity bars. For this reason, their show at Marty’s on Newport will forever hold a special place in the already-large part of my heart reserved for Black Lips.
KCR recently spoke to vocalist and bassist Jared Swilley in advance of this tour. Check out that interview here.