All photos by Erik McLaren
There’s a lot of bitching and moaning about punk rock these days. The people who complain must have never seen the Black Lips live. Their CMW show rolled through like clockwork. All the openers played well, though to an embarrassingly small crowd at first. Lint, the first of the openers busted out a really impressive set, something like what a massively popular pop-punk band would have sounded like in their early days, but there were only two or three dozen people there to hear it.
The crowd slowly swelled through the course of the evening. By the time the Black Lips were ready to take the stage most of the floor at the Phoenix Concert Theatre was full, and with a crowd that looked like an old school punk crowd. Most of the people were young, which is isn’t abnormal at a punk show, but many of the people lacked the traditional punk rock costume. There were much less studs, mohawks and pierced faces than you’d expect at a punk show. The crowd was a look back at the punk shows from 70s and 80s, when a punk wore jeans and a white t-shirt.
The Black Lips themselves are a kind of throwback. They sound like something crusty punks in London may have moshed to after a long day of rioting against the British police in the 90s. The way they carried themselves on stage was stoic; no witty stage banter, just song after song, with the odd “Toronto!” exclamation.
The crowd at the show fell in line with this trip to a simpler time in punk rock. There was a lively pit, but it had a fun and loose feel, almost entirely devoid of the kind of violence that can ruin a person’s night, or at least make them sit out a song. Maybe it’s because the Black Lips are a younger band, maybe it was the copious amount of beer the crowd consumed, but everyone in attendance just seemed to lack the cynicism that's permeated punk shows since, well, almost forever. It was weird to see so many happy people jamming to punk.
There was no barrier between the stage and the floor, and the Black Lips took advantage of the intimacy by sticking a hand or a foot into the crowd that would be quickly engrossed by adoring hands. The crowd too, took advantage of the closeness, with many stage dives. The dives, like the pit, had an air of maturity about them. There were no selfies, no getting in the band's face while they played, just people getting up on the stage, and a quick dive off followed by some surfing.
One missing element of the show was some bat-shit insane antics from the Black Lips, a group that’s been known to set gear on fire, vomit, and piss on stage, among other things out of GG Allin’s more pleasant daydreams. There was none of that, but the band has matured, and if their tight, expertly performed set last night is any indication, they’ve grown past the need for gimmicks. It was 70 solid minutes of music, inspiring sweat and hoarse scream-alongs.
The Black Lips turned the Phoenix into a time machine last night, and all of us were on a trip to a time when punk rock was fun and had nothing to prove to anybody, though there were some elements of the show that might not have gone over in the 90s. Openers Death Valley Chicks, a group of almost all women, may not have been as welcome in the hypermasculine world of punk way back when. And that would have been a shame because they rocked the damn house. If you’re ever feeling depressed and like all the true ‘punk rock’ experiences have already passed the world by, go see the Black Lips. You’ll come out sweaty, with mashed vocal cords, and hope for the future of punk.
Erik McLaren is a writer from Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.